Opposition pushes for flight bans as Ottawa considers further border restrictions

Opposition leaders are again pressuring the federal government to suspend flights from certain countries to clamp down on the spread of COVID variants — a decision Ottawa could make as soon as today.

The renewed calls to toughen the border comes as a massive surge of COVID-19 cases ravages India.

“We need to move quickly to stop the new variants from entering Canada and spreading further. We must secure our borders,” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole told a news conference today. He was referring in part to the B.1.617 variant, first sequenced in India, and the P.1 variant, first detected in Brazil.

“It is long past time for Justin Trudeau to take action. The federal government must temporarily suspend flights from hotspot countries immediately.”

O’Toole said the restrictions should come as a temporary hold, adding that the government needs to procure more vaccine doses.

India, the world’s second-most populous country, reported a surge of more than 314,000 new infections today, adding pressure to a health care system critically short of hospital beds and oxygen.

On Wednesday, the federal government said it’s looking into flights arriving from India.

“I can confirm for you that we are very actively considering all and any additional measures that are or will be necessary to protect Canadians and I hope that we will be able to share more of that with you in the next 24 hours or so,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told CTV’s Power Play.

Quebec has reported its first case of B.1.617 in the Mauricie–Centre-du-Québec region, according to provincial public health authorities. 

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The federal government says 35 flights from India with at least one case of COVID-19 aboard have arrived in Canada in the last two weeks.

Canada previously banned U.K. flights 

Calls to restrict flights were echoed today by Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet. He was being questioned about today’s front page in the Journal de Montréal, which displays a photo of Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing with the headline, “India’s variant has arrived. So, Justin, are we cutting ties with India quickly this time?”

“We must protect the lives and health of Canadians and Quebecers and it might mean that wherever on earth there is such an explosion of the number of cases being potentially carried in other jurisdictions and countries, there must be measures,” said Blanchet.

“This is one type of virus attacking one type of human beings.”

In late December, the government banned flights arriving from the U.K. in a bid to keep out a contagious variant of COVID 19 that first emerged there.

But B.1.1.7 still reached Canadian shores and the Public Health Agency of Canada was reporting 70,253 cases of that COVID-19 variant as of Wednesday,

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