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Canada bans flights from India and Pakistan but there's a loophole

In an effort to stop deadly variants of COVID-19 from entering the country, Canada just banned all incoming flights from India and Pakistan for at least 30 days.

The ban, which took effect at 11:30 p.m. on Thursday night, was announced hours after India set a new worldwide record for the most COVID cases confirmed over a 24-hour period (314,000 new infections) and as concerns mount over a "double mutant" variant first detected in South Asia.

"Given the higher number of cases of COVID-19 detected in air passengers arriving into Canada from India and Pakistan, Transport Canada is issuing a Notice to Airmen, or NOTAM, to halt direct passenger air traffic from those countries," said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra on Thursday.

But here's the thing: The ban applies only to direct commercial and private passenger flights.

Cargo transport is still allowed from both countries and, more importantly, passengers can still travel from India or Pakistan to Canada via "indirect" routes.

Transport Canada's website states that passengers who depart either India or Pakistan for Canada on a flight with stopovers or layovers in other countries must "obtain a negative COVID-19 pre-departure test from a third country before continuing their journey to Canada."

Someone could fly from Mumbai to Frankfurt, for instance, before continuing on their way to Toronto — where mandatory 14-day-long quarantine rules still remain very much in effect for all international travellers.

Of course, many travellers are now choosing to fly into Buffalo or Detroit instead, where they can drive across the border and avoid the  costly hotel quarantine process mandated by Canada's federal government for incoming air passengers.

Negative COVID-19 tests are still required to cross the border by land, as is a mandatory quarantine, but travellers aren't forced to stay at a hotel of the government's choosing while awaiting the results of another test that they must pay for out of pocket.

There's also the issue of blatant noncompliance among people who do land at Toronto's Pearson airport and simply refuse to obey current government orders.

Some in Ontario worry that people from India, Pakistan or any other country where the virus is still highly active will find ways around the new air travel ban.

"Today's announcement only bans direct flights from India and Pakistan," tweeted Brampton South MPP Prabmeet Sarkaria in response to the federal government's announcement on Thursday. 

"Travellers can still take connecting flights to enter Ontario. The B.1.617 double mutant variant poses a threat to Canada. The federal government needs to address these gaps immediately!"

Federal health minister Patty Hajdu said on Thursday that half of all people arriving in Canada by plane are now coming from India, despite the country accounting for only about 20 per cent of Canada's air traffic.

Canada joins the U.K., Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Pakistan in barring or limiting travel from India as the coronavirus pandemic spirals out of control in the massive South Asian country.

Lead photo by

Toronto Pearson

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