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India/Pakistan flight ban extended by federal government

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced today that the India and Pakistan flight ban in Canada will be extended until next month. Back in April, the governemnt originally announced a ban on direct flights from India and from Pakistan for 30 days, specifically targeting passenger flights.

Of concern was the B.1.617 COVID variant, which has been characterized as a "variant of interest" and is being described as a “double mutant” due to a pair of mutations that the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare says may confer “immune escape and increased infectivity.”

Alberta recorded its first case of that variant in April, as did Quebec.

“We should be worried,” said Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist and a medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre. “If a variant can spread into another country, that means it has some capacity for survival fitness and that usually means it’s as or more transmissible than the current strain.”

In a press conference, Alghabra said the ban will continue on for another month until late June due to the risk of exposure to these variants.

"I can say that we have seen a significant reduction in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 arriving from international flights since this restriction was put in place," Alghabra said at the conference.

Passengers can still come to Canada from those countries if they travel via another country first, but they must have a negative COVID-19 test from their last point of departure and follow that country's travel guidelines.

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