The federal government is suspending incoming passenger flights from India and Pakistan for the next month as cases of COVID-19 surge in both countries.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says because there are so many people arriving in Canada from India and Pakistan with COVID-19, all commercial and private passenger flights from both countries will be prohibited.
"Effective 11:30 p.m. Eastern time tonight, I am suspending all commercial and private passenger flights arriving in Canada from India and Pakistan for 30 days," said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra Thursday.
He says cargo flights will still be allowed, particularly to ensure shipments of vaccines and personal protective equipment can continue.
Our government’s top priority is protecting Canadians’ health and safety, and our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is guided by the latest science and research. pic.twitter.com/I5DXENULsw— Omar Alghabra (@OmarAlghabra) April 22, 2021
Shipments of vaccine to Canada, however, are suspended by India likely until at least June, as the country battles its biggest surge of COVID-19 yet.
To discourage people from getting around the flight ban by booking flights through other countries, Canada will require passengers transiting through a third nation to go through customs in that country and remain there until they obtain another negative COVID-19 test. Only then can they board their flight to Canada, and they will be required to quarantine in Canada as well.
"Those are the measures that are actually effective in not just eliminating direct flights and the risk that might represent from hot-spot countries but also by taking the steps that are necessary to ensure that we don't allow people using connecting flights," said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.
All passengers arriving in Canada by land or air from any country have to show a negative COVID-19 test and quarantine for two weeks, with some exceptions for essential workers. Air passengers must quarantine for the first three days at an approved hotel awaiting a COVID-19 test result, and must test again 10 days after arriving.
About 300 people have been fined $3,000 for refusing to quarantine in an approved hotel upon arrival.
Health Canada has said about one per cent of all hotel quarantine passengers test positive for COVID-19.
The rules apply to Canadian citizens and foreign nationals.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu says half of the people who are testing positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Canada on an airplane came from India, even though Indian flights accounted for only one-fifth of air traffic.
She says passengers coming from Pakistan are also testing positive at higher rates than average.
Health Canada data shows 112 flights landing in Canada since April 7 have carried at least one passenger who tested COVID19 positive. Also 32 flights from Delhi and 2 flights from Lahore in the last two weeks carried dozens of passengers who later tested positive for COVID-19.
There were also 10 such flights from France, 20 from multiple cities in the United States, and 10 from the United Arab Emirates.
India is seeing the biggest surge of COVID-19 to date, with more than 314,000 new cases reported Thursday, it's highest one-day total ever.
Pakistan's government warned this week major cities might be closed if COVID-19 cases there keep growing.
Canada joins several other governments in clamping down on travel from India. Pakistan has barred entry from India for 2 weeks, Hong Kong banned incoming flights from India for 2 weeks and New Zealand went as far as to ban entry to anyone who had been in India, including New Zealand nationals.
New Zealand did so April 11 after 17 people arriving from India tested positive for COVID-19.
The United Kingdom Friday is adding India to its "red list" of countries from which travellers are not welcome. British citizens are allowed to return home but must quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.
Alghabra said there are no flights coming in from Brazil at the moment but Canada won't hesitate to ban further commercial flights if the data supports it.