Canada has extended the ban on direct flights from India and Pakistan by one more month until June 21 in a bid to arrest the spread of new variants of the COVID-19, according to an official announcement.
The ban on flights from India and Pakistan was extended as the previous 30-day ban, first imposed on April 22, was set to expire on Saturday, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) News reported.
Cargo flights, however, will be permitted in order to maintain shipments of essential supplies, such as vaccines and personal protective equipment, it said on Friday.
"The Minister of Transport is of the opinion that it is necessary for aviation safety and the protection of the public," according to a notice to airmen. As the ban applies to direct flights from both countries, passengers can still fly to Canada from India or Pakistan by arriving via a third country. They will need to produce a negative result on a COVID-19 test taken at their last point of departure before being allowed to enter Canada, according to the report.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, at a government pandemic briefing, said that the restriction was put in place "based on public health advice to reduce the importation risk of COVID-19 and its variants."
"I can say that we've seen a significant reduction in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 arriving from international flights since this restriction was put in place," he said.
Alghabra said the government would continue adapting border restrictions as conditions change. Dr Howard Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, said that travel restrictions are important given that roughly 70 per cent of new coronavirus cases in Canada are variants of concern.
Last week, Canada’s flag carrier Air Canada proactively extended the flight ban from India in anticipation of the government's announcement. Air Canada does not fly to Pakistan.
All travellers arriving in Canada by land or air have to show a negative COVID-19 test and quarantine for two weeks; some exceptions are made for essential workers.
Air passengers must quarantine for up to three days at an approved hotel while awaiting COVID-19 test results, and must test again eight days after arrival.
The B.1.617 variant, first identified in India, has been found in Canada as 279 air travellers tested positive for that variant between February 22 and May 6, the Public Health Agency of Canada said.
India has been severely affected by the unprecedented second wave of the coronavirus and hospitals in several states are reeling under the shortage of health workers, vaccines, oxygen, drugs and beds.
The daily rise in coronavirus cases in India remained below 300,000 for the fifth consecutive day with 2,57,299 new cases recorded in a single day, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Saturday.
With a total of 2,57,299 fresh cases, India's total tally of COVID-19 cases climbed to 2,62,89,290. The death toll climbed to 2,95,525 with 4,194 fatalities.