Premier Doug Ford calls on feds to impose temporary ban on direct flights from countries with new COVID-19 strains

TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford is calling on the federal government to take further action when it comes to border control, pushing for mandatory COVID-19 testing and a temporary ban on direct flights from countries where new strains of the disease have been found.

Ford made these pleas on Tuesday afternoon while providing an update on the province’s recently launched voluntary COVID-19 testing pilot project at Toronto International Pearson Airport.

According to the province, 6,580 tests for the novel coronavirus have been conducted as part of the pilot project. Of those tests, 146 came back positive and of those positive results, four have been screened as potential U.K. variant and will undergo further investigation.

The program, which launched on Jan. 6, offers voluntary testing for COVID-19 to any international travellers staying in Ontario for at least 14 days and so far has a positivity rate of about 2.26 per cent. Participants receive their test results within 24 to 48 hours.

According to the province, recent data shows that 1.8 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Ontario are related to international travel.

The province said the first case of the U.K. variant in Ontario was confirmed last month and was due to international travel.

Amid other new variants being detected globally, Ford said he is calling on the feds to implement mandatory testing for all travellers arriving from outside the country and impose a temporary ban on direct flights from countries where new strains of COVID-19 are found, including Brazil and Portugal.

Ford added that banning flights with multiple stops in countries with a known variant of the disease should also be considered.

“While we’ve made steady progress through this pilot program, thousands of people continue to pass through Pearson every week without being tested, creating a real risk to all Ontarians,” Ford said.

“That’s why, in addition to pre-departure testing, we’re asking the federal government to adopt mandatory testing upon arrival for all international travellers and impose a temporary ban on flights coming from countries where new COVID-19 strains are being detected.”

Ford said “we all need to do our part to stop the spread of this virus” until vaccines are widely available.

“It’s absolutely critical to protect our borders,” he said.

“This is simple folks, no politics, no nothing, you land in Toronto, or other areas, you have to be tested, simple as that. We aren’t the first country to require this and we won’t be the last. So, again, I can’t figure out for the life of me why we aren’t testing every single person that comes through this airport, in Ottawa as well, and land crossings, we have to lockdown.”

Earlier Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said new measures will be announced in the coming days.

“One just has to remember that we are reliant on supply chains from around the world for foods, for goods, for essential medications and we do not want measures that we are brining in to further restrict non-essential travel, to have an impact on those essential supply chains,” Trudeau said.

“That is why we’re working very carefully and very diligently on the new measures we will be bringing forward in the coming days to make sure we are further discouraging non-essential travel, that we are further keeping Canadians safe, but we are not brining in hardship around our supply lines.”

According to the federal government, at least 156 flights have landed in Canada between Jan. 10 and Jan. 23 that had passengers who tested positive for the novel coronavirus after arriving in the country. Of the flights, 76 landed in Toronto.

There were also 70 domestic flights that had a passenger later test positive for the disease.

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020, with the latest extension set to expire on Feb. 21. Travellers must show a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their travel date and must self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Ford also added on Tuesday that the federal government should explore new approaches to strengthen enforcement of quarantine measures, including isolation hotels.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to impose a ban starting Saturday on most non-U.S. citizens entering the country who have recently been in South Africa in a bid to contact the spread of a COVID-19 variant found there.

He is also reimposing an entry ban on nearly all non-U.S. travellers who have been in Brazil, the U.K. and Ireland, as well as 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders.

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