Canada watching COVID-19 surge in India closely, but country-specific travel restrictions ‘only go so far’: Tam

OTTAWA — The country’s chief public health officer says given COVID-19 variants are no longer unique to specific countries and are spreading quickly across the globe, Canada is sticking by its universal approach to travel restrictions.

Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters on Wednesday that imposing targeted restrictions on travellers coming from countries including India and Brazil, with high variant spread, “can only go so far” and that Canada has been focused on more “broad” application of rules.

“The virus globally is undergoing evolution and there are many different mutations and changes in the virus, particularly in countries that have a lot of cases,” she said. “Given that situation, a strategy for Canada was to add more layers of protections for every country.”

To enter Canada, passengers arriving by air must first show a negative PCR test within 72 hours of their departure flight. Once landing in the country, passengers are required to take another test and quarantine in a designated government hotel until they receive their results.

The Public Health Agency of Canada had recently recommended that additional screening measures be applied to travellers arriving from Brazil, as the variant linked to that country was reported on Canadian soil. They have since dropped that advice, given the spread of the P.1 variant, namely in Western Canada.

Tam and other health officials fielded questions about why Canada hasn’t done the same for India.

India recorded nearly 300,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday alone, with 2,000 more deaths linked to the virus. The U.K. added the country to its “red list” on Monday, banning most travel.

Tam said her team is conducting a risk analysis of the situation there, collecting data to determine how many people are testing positive coming into Canada from India, and any reporting of the country’s newly discovered variant.

The first case of India’s B.1.617 variant was identified in Quebec on Wednesday.

In an interview on CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the government is monitoring the situation and is considering the tools at their disposal to prevent outbreaks from overseas travel, specifically from India.

“We are very actively considering all additional measures that are going to be necessary to protect Canadians, and I hope that we’ll be able to share more of that with you in the next 24 hours or so,” he said, adding that one of those measures could come in the form of a travel ban.

With a file from The Canadian Press.

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