Canada will ban all flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days after pressure from provincial leaders who are making tough decisions to tackle surging COVID-19 variant cases at home.
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said of the people who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus after arriving by plane, half have come from India. There are also disproportionate infections among travellers arriving from Pakistan, she said.
"By eliminating direct travel from these countries, public health experts will have the time to evaluate the ongoing epidemiology for that region," Hajdu said Thursday.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, said now is not the time to be travelling abroad.
Earlier Thursday, Quebec Premier Francois Legault joined a number of other provincial leaders in calling for tougher quarantine rules for passengers on international flights and for people driving into Canada.
The B.1.617 variant that appears to be wreaking havoc in India was detected in Quebec earlier this week.
Quebec reported 1,248 new cases and seven more deaths but, weeks after implementing tighter restrictions in cities that became centres for fast-spreading variants, noted a slight drop in hospitalizations.
As many provinces moved to tighten restrictions to curb community spread, Ontario Premier Doug Ford became emotional as he apologized for acting too hastily with health orders last week.
"I’m sorry and I sincerely apologize," Ford said from his home where he is isolating after being exposed to COVID-19.
"Because as premier, as I said right from the beginning, the buck stops with me.”
Ford choked up talking about how people were angry after his government increased police enforcement powers and closed playgrounds last Friday, decisions which have since been reversed.
The premier said there are no easy choices left as a devastating third wave of the pandemic washes over Ontario.
Ford, who was among the politicians calling for travel restrictions, also promised a paid sick-leave program.
There were 3,682 new cases reported Thursday in Ontario and 40 more deaths. Hospitalizations and the number of people in intensive care have reached the highest levels in the province since the pandemic started.
Elsewhere, Nova Scotia closed its provincial boundary to non-essential travel from all parts of Canada — except Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador — as it deals with a spike in cases.
The province also reinstated "circuit breaker" restrictions for the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister rejected calls from Winnipeg's mayor to tighten provincial restrictions to stop a steady climb of new infections in recent days. There were 258 new daily cases reported in the province, the highest number there since January.
Many politicians and health officials also voiced concerns about continued travel within Canada.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia's provincial health officer, said the province's incoming restrictions banning all non-essential travel outside health regions will slow down spread in COVID-19 hot spots.
There were 1,006 new cases of COVID-19 and four more deaths in B.C., as well as a record-high of 502 people in hospital.
Njoo said he felt discouraged by people making the choice to cross provincial boundaries for things like ski trips or holidays. He said too many health-care systems are overwhelmed and more people still need to get vaccinations.
"This is not the time for that," Njoo said. "There's a crisis going on."
There has been a 22 per cent increase in the number of people hospitalized nationally over last week and a 21 per cent rise in those in intensive-care units.
Canada passed a vaccination milestone Thursday morning with more than 10 million people — about 30 per cent of the adult population — receiving at least one dose of vaccine.
Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin, who leads the country's distribution effort, said he remains optimistic despite Moderna struggling with production and no further confirmed shipments of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
The first delivery of 300,000 Johnson & Johnson doses is to arrive in Canada next week and be distributed to the provinces the first week of May.
"Overall, the quantities of vaccines we can expect from manufacturers continue to grow so that more and more Canadians can continue to be vaccinated."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2021.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press