The federal government will ban passenger flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days starting tonight, CBC News has learned.
The ban is being imposed to deal with concerns about rising case counts in India and mutations of the coronavirus.
Federal ministers are holding a press conference at approximately 5 p.m. ET to announce the ban.
Passengers arriving in Canada from abroad are required already to undergo pre-boarding tests for COVID-19, tests on arrival and a government-mandated 14-day quarantine period.
The new travel restrictions come after opposition leaders and premiers pressed the federal government to suspend flights from hot spot countries as a massive surge of COVID-19 cases ravages India.
In a joint letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released today, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier François Legault urged the federal government to reduce the number of incoming international flights and secure the Canada-U.S. land border.
“There is an urgent need to address issues with testing and quarantining at the borders, including falsified COVID-19 testing documentation, travellers opting [for] fines over complying [with] quarantine requirements, or travelling via private vehicle/plane to avoid quarantine, among several other areas of concern,” they wrote.
“While it is crucial that the transport of essential goods is not hindered by border measures, it is likewise crucial that all non-essential travel be curtailed. The introduction of stricter measures for travellers crossing at land borders is a significant step to achieve that goal and ensure that collectively we are doing all we can to protect our citizens.”
Earlier today, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called for a temporary suspension of certain flights to control the B1617 variant, first sequenced in India, and the P1 variant, first detected in Brazil.
“We need to move quickly to stop the new variants from entering Canada and spreading further. We must secure our borders,” he told a news conference today.
“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 B.C. Centre for Disease Control confirmed they had found 39 cases of the COVID-19 variant B1617 as of April 4.
WATCH | Conservative leader calls for suspension of international flights
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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