The Canadian government has introduced a travel ban for passenger flights from India and Pakistan for the next 30 days due to growing concerns around the spread of COVID-19 variants, beginning at 11:30 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, revealed that flights from India account for 20 per cent of recent air travel volumes to Canada, but more than 50 per cent of positive tests conducted at the border.
"A similarly high level of cases, compared to travel rate, have also been linked to Pakistan," Hajdu said.
While the Canadian government is halting direct passenger flights from India and Pakistan, anyone departing those two countries but entering Canada via an indirect route after 11:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, for the next 30 days, must obtain a negative COVID-19 pre-departure test at their last point of departure.
Cargo flights will be allowed for the arrival of essential supplies like vaccines and personal protective equipment.
"We’ve been saying for over a year, now is not the time to travel," Omar Alghabra, Minister of Transport said at the press conference on Thursday. "Border restrictions can change at any time and you can be stuck in another country."
"This is a temporary measure while we assess the evolving situation and determine appropriate measures going forward," Alghabra said.
The transport minister added that there are currently no direct flights from the Brazil, the country of origin of the P1 COVID-19 variant, but he indicated that the federal government "will not hesitate to ban travel from other countries if the science bares that out."
Minister Alghabra also urged Canadians to avoid the "trap" of blaming certain groups for COVID-19.
"We’ve seen this with Asian Canadians, we must reject scapegoating any group," he said. "This virus is not Chinese, nor is it Indian, it affects us all."