OTTAWA — The number of planes landing in Canada carrying passengers with COVID-19 was cut by more than half in the two weeks after the federal government barred incoming flights from India and Pakistan.
Transport Canada announced April 22 that direct flights from the countries would be halted for 30 days after high numbers of passengers were testing positive for the virus after landing.
The last flights to arrive from India landed in Toronto the next day.
Health Canada data posted online show 135 international flights from 18 different countries arrived between April 10 and April 23 with at least one passenger who had COVID-19.
Thirty-six of those were direct flights from India and two were from Pakistan.
In the two weeks after the ban took effect, the number of overall flights with COVID-19-positive passengers fell to 56, and not just because of an absence of direct flights from India and Pakistan.
In the two weeks before the ban, U.S. cities accounted for 27 of the flights, but only represented 12 in the two weeks after.
There were 25 flights carrying positive passengers from Europe between April 10 and April 23, and nine between April 24 and May 7.
The number of flights from Turkey with passengers who tested positive went from 11 to two, and those from the United Arab Emirates went from 13 to five.
Tammy Jarbeau, a spokeswoman for Health Canada, said the flight ban has also affected passengers trying to return to Canada from India and Pakistan on connecting flights through airports in Europe or the United States.
All passengers boarding flights for Canada need to show a negative COVID-19 test completed 72 hours before departure, take a second upon arrival in Canada, and a third eight to 10 days later.
When the ban on direct flights from India and Pakistan was implemented, Canada also said passengers who were in either of those countries but flying on a non-direct route to Canada must get another test in their connecting city.
Connecting flights are further impacted by restrictions on travel from India in a number of other countries including Europe and the U.S. At least three dozen countries have implemented some sort of travel restrictions on flights from India in recent weeks.
India is grappling with a massive surge in COVID-19 cases, averaging more than 330,000 cases a day in the last four weeks.
There has been an increase in flights carrying COVID-19-infected passengers from several countries in the two weeks following the India and Pakistan flight ban, however.
Qatar had five flights with positive passengers between April 10 and April 23 and that number jumped to six between April 24 and May 7.
Several countries which weren't on the list in the first two weeks, including China, Japan, Panama and the Philippines, did have passengers test positive during the second two weeks.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in April the reason India and Pakistan were targeted for the flight ban was because a higher proportion of passengers arriving from those countries were testing positive.
Air Canada this week announced it was voluntarily extending its ban on flights from India another month until June 22.
In a statement issued by the office of Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Canada said it isn't extending the overall ban at this time.
"We continue to examine the COVID-19 public health situation unfolding around the world and will adjust border measures as necessary," the statement reads.
"In the case of India and Pakistan, our government is following developments closely and will determine the next steps regarding the (flight ban) based on the evidence and advice of public health experts.:
The flight data does not specify the number of people on board who tested positive after arriving, only whether there were positive passengers or not.
Separately, Health Canada has told The Canadian Press that between Feb. 22 and late April more than 5,000 international air travellers tested positive for COVID-19 either on the day of arrival, or eight to 10 days later, about one per cent of all travellers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2021.