OTTAWA — The federal government is looking into flights arriving from India due to a massive surge of COVID-19 cases ravaging that country, Canada’s top public health doctor said Wednesday as at least one province urged Ottawa to tighten the border.
The government generally believes that limiting travel from specific countries can only go so far, said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, but India may present a special case.
“We will be doing further analysis because it’s an emerging situation, not just because of the variant of interest at this point but because they have unfortunately a very massive resurgence in that country,” she said. “We will be doing that risk assessment again, and using the data that we have now collected at the border to inform our next steps.”
A case involving the “variant of interest” that originated in India — known as the B. 1.617 variant — was detected in Quebec on Wednesday, west of the provincial capital.
But rather than banning travel from nations where variants have emerged, Tam said Canada has mostly opted to take a broader approach, instituting “layers of protection” against travellers from all countries.
She pointed to a pre-boarding test for COVID-19, tests on arrival and government-mandated quarantine.
Calls are mounting for Ottawa to limit travel from India and other such hot spots.
India recorded nearly 300,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday alone, with 2,000 more deaths linked to the virus.
Hospitals in India are now overflowing, and medical oxygen is in low supply. The effort to test and vaccinate residents is floundering, and bodies are piling up at morgues and crematoriums.
But even so, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is urging states to avoid lockdowns by creating micro-containment zones to control outbreaks instead.
According to the Canadian government, there have been 35 flights from India with at least one case of COVID-19 that have arrived in Canada in the last two weeks.
Ontario’s government, for one, is “pleading” with Ottawa to ban travel from India.
The provincial government says cases of COVID-19 are pouring in through international borders.
House leader Paul Calandra said it’s critical that the federal Liberals act now to prevent more variants from infiltrating Canada.
“I am pleading with the prime minister to secure our borders so that we can get control of these international variants,” he said.
Canada has limited travel from some countries over the course of the pandemic.
In late December, the government barred flights arriving from the U.K. in a bid to prevent a contagious variant of COVID-19 that first emerged there from entering this country.
The ban lasted until early January, and ultimately, the B.1.1.7 variant took hold in Canada.
As of Tuesday, the federal government was reporting 67,417 cases of COVID-19 involving that variant.