The Government of Canada has announced that it will ban passenger flights from India and Pakistan for the next 30 days.
Federal officials revealed the new measure on April 22, with the ban taking effect as of 11:30 pm EST tonight.
“We’ve been saying for over a year, now is not the time to travel,” said Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport.
“Border restrictions can change at any time, and you can be stuck in another country.”
All direct commercial and private passenger flights from India and Pakistan will be included in the ban, although cargo flights will still be permitted.
As well, passengers flying to Canada from India and Pakistan via an indirect route will be required to have a negative COVID-19 test taken at their last point of departure.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said that although India only accounts for 20% of recent air travel volumes to Canada, over 50% of all positive tests conducted at the border are from the South Asian country.
A similarly high level of positive cases to travel rates has been linked to Pakistan, she said.
“We must avoid the risk of falling into the trap of blaming an identifiable group for causing COVID. We’ve seen this with Asian Canadians,” Alghabra said.
“We must reject scapegoating any group. This virus is not Chinese, nor is it Indian. It affects us all.”
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On Wednesday, public health officials said they had begun assessing the COVID-19 situation in India, as cases surged and a “variant of interest” took hold.
“They have a very massive resurgence in that country,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer of health.
A “double mutant” strain of COVID-19 emerged in India in late March, which contains mutations found in two existing variant strains.
There is speculation that the double mutant is what has fuelled the virus’ recent resurgence in India.
According to the World Health Organization, India saw more than 500,000 new COVID-19 cases during the week of April 12, while Pakistan saw 34,190.
India has reported nearly 16 million virus cases since the pandemic began – second only behind the United States for the country with the most cases worldwide.
Several other countries, including the UK and Hong Kong, have already temporarily banned flights from India and Pakistan. Hong Kong has stopped flights from the Philippines, too.
To date, Canada has seen 1,147,463 COVID-19 cases and 23,763 virus-related deaths.
With files from Megan Devlin.