Indians in Calgary voice support for federal travel ban with some now separated from family members

·4 min read
Air India flight 187 from New Delhi lands at Pearson airport in Toronto on Friday. The flight was the last landing allowed after all flights from India and Pakistan to Canada were suspended. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Air India flight 187 from New Delhi lands at Pearson airport in Toronto on Friday. The flight was the last landing allowed after all flights from India and Pakistan to Canada were suspended. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A ban on flights to Canada from India and Pakistan is being supported in Calgary for the most part but some families say they've been caught off guard by the decision.

The federal government announced late Thursday it was banning passenger flights from India and Pakistan as COVID-19 case counts surge in India amid concerns of coronavirus mutations.

A new variant, B1617, has been detected there and could be responsible for a flood of cases that is bringing the health-care system close to collapse with oxygen running dangerously low and patients being left untreated.

Crematoriums are also under pressure with mass funeral pyres taking place as the country surpasses world highs for new cases of coronavirus — 332,730 cases were reported on Friday.

The same variant has turned up in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec, and international flights into Canada are thought to be to blame.

The Alberta case was in a returning inter-provincial traveller, according to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health for the province.

Multiple funeral pyres of those patients who died of COVID-19 disease are seen burning at a ground that has been converted into a crematorium for mass cremation of coronavirus victims, in New Delhi, India on Wednesday.
Multiple funeral pyres of those patients who died of COVID-19 disease are seen burning at a ground that has been converted into a crematorium for mass cremation of coronavirus victims, in New Delhi, India on Wednesday.(The Associated Press)

"A lot of people think it's a step in the right direction. It was long overdue," said Devesh Oberoi, who helps run the Indian Society of Calgary's Facebook page, where the ban has been a hot topic.

"It's to safeguard our own territory, and a lot of other countries have done this," said Oberoi. "A lot of people are in favour. The situation in India is grim."

But Oberoi says a lot people believe the ban was a knee-jerk reaction and happened so quickly that people travelling to India and Pakistan weren't able to make plans to get home.

"People aren't travelling for fun. They're travelling for family emergencies," said Oberoi. "It should have been more strategically implemented."

Oberoi says lots of people are sharing stories of friends and family members who travelled from Calgary that are now stuck in India.

"Some had lost their family members, so they'd gone to visit and join their families and now they're stuck," he said.

Gaganjot Singh and his wife are expecting a new baby.

His parents were due to fly from Punjab to Calgary to help the family with their new arrival.

"My wife is due for her delivery in June and my parents were due travel from India in the next few weeks," said Singh, who noted he supports the ban.

"We are disappointed but we want everyone to be safe and we're asking our parents over there to stay home and stay safe," said Singh.

He'd hoped to bring them to Calgary where they could be safer.

"They are doing mass cremations over there and I'm getting videos every day now and your heart goes out. The videos are disappointing. They hurt," he said.

Gaganjot Singh and his wife, Prabhleen Kaur, hoped to fly his parents to Calgary to help with the arrival of their new baby, but the travel ban means that can’t happen for the foreseeable future.
Gaganjot Singh and his wife, Prabhleen Kaur, hoped to fly his parents to Calgary to help with the arrival of their new baby, but the travel ban means that can’t happen for the foreseeable future.(Gagan Jot Singh)

Singh says the situation is so bad he's not holding out much hope that 30 days will be enough.

Pakistan is also affected by the ban with family members who've travelled from Calgary facing similar issues.

"My wife and three kids went back home in March to see their grandparents after nine years," said Imran Chaudhary.

They were scheduled to return in May, but now their flight is cancelled.

"They're very stressed over there and they really want to come back home," said Chaudhary. "One of my sons has special needs, he has Down syndrome so he really needs to come back to Canada."

Chaudhary says Pakistan is in better shape than India.

"It doesn't make sense to have Pakistan on this list," said Chaudhary. "The Canadian government are not taking care of their citizens."

The ban applies to both private and commercial air passenger flights.

Passengers departing from either country to Canada via an indirect flight will need to test negative for the virus at their last point of departure.

The federal government bans most non-essential foreign travel into Canada, and requires those who are allowed to enter to take multiple COVID-19 tests and complete a 14-day quarantine.