As Ottawa imposes temporary flight ban, variant discovered in India is now in B.C.
VANCOUVER -- As federal officials impose a temporary ban on flights from a country dealing with a massive COVID-19 outbreak, a variant first discovered in India is now in B.C.
It's a massive humanitarian crisis: India reported more than 300,000 cases of the disease in a single day. And it had some experts wondering whether it's time to suspend flights to and from the country for the time being.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau initially said it was under consideration, and travel restrictions were already in place in some countries.
On Thursday afternoon, federal officials announced a 30-day ban on passenger flights from both India and Pakistan as a way to slow the variant spread in Canada. Read more on CTVNews.ca.
Speaking at a news conference as the update broke, Dr. Bonnie Henry said there is no indication of widespread cases of that variant, but that it's a "very difficult time" in India.
The province's top doctor said her heart goes out to those affected, including those in B.C. with family members or friends in India. Additionally, she said she backed the ban.
"We are very supportive of the federal government stopping flights coming into Canada right now," Henry said.
"We've seen this when we had increased rates in the U.K., when we needed to take a break and ensure that we had an understanding of what was going on. It just is a very challenging time in India right now and we hope that they're able to manage that as soon as possible… Anything that we can do that stops further introductions into the country is really, really important."
She called it a good move, but said it was "with a heavy heart."
On the West Coast, three recent flights from India were added to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control's list of flights with possible COVID-19 exposures.
Looking back a little further, eight of 13 international flights with cases on board which have landed in Vancouver since April 11 have been from India.
Currently, international travellers heading to Canada are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding, and are also required to take another test when they land. They are required to quarantine for two weeks, three nights of which must be spent in a government-approved hotel.
While B.C. has announced restrictions on non-essential travel within the province, and said it plans to put signs at the Alberta border asking people to stay home, there have been no restrictions placed on air travel in B.C.
But the discovery in B.C. of a variant of COVID-19 associated with India has some wondering whether the flight rules need to be changed for the time being. It is unclear how many cases in total have been confirmed in B.C., but as of April 4 there were 39 known cases in the province.
The variant is B.1.617, and unlike others associated with the U.K., South Africa and Brazil, it is not currently considered a variant of concern.
"We don't understand enough about it," said the country's top doctor, Theresa Tam, on Wednesday.
"But there are mutations on it similar to other variants of concern."
should be considered as India deals with its second wave.
Dr. Nav Grewal with the South Asian COVID Task Force said he'd approve of a "temporary pause" at least until more information has been gathered, "at least until we learn more about this virus – at least the length of incubation."
Calling the current situation a "race of vaccine against variants," the doctor said the more variants that are introduced, the harder it is to achieve what health officials call herd immunity.
"I also think our quarantine measures should be enforced."
B.C.'s health minister said the province has had concerns with the implementation of the federal quarantine rules.
"We think more can be done," Adrian Dix admitted.
Canada has suspended flights to and from other countries in the past. India is a concern not only because of the mutation, but also because of a massive resurgence in COVID-19 cases.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Bhinder Sajan and Ian Holliday