Ottawa 'constantly' looking at further COVID-19 border measures, Freeland says

​​​​​​​Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says Ottawa is “constantly” reviewing its border measures to guard against the spread of COVID-19 and more transmissible variants of the novel coronavirus. 

Comments come as political leaders call on Ottawa to protect Canada's entry points

An airport worker watches planes on the runway at Toronto's Pearson International Airport on Friday. A 30-day federal ban on flights from India and Pakistan is now in effect amid rising COVID-19 cases in those countries. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says Ottawa is "constantly" reviewing its border measures to guard against the spread of COVID-19 and more transmissible variants of the novel coronavirus.

"We're reviewing the data. We're talking to scientists all the time. We are talking to premiers across the country constantly looking to see if there's more we should be doing," Freeland said in an interview that aired Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

Canada on Thursday banned all commercial and private passenger flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days after an increasing number of travellers from both countries were found to be COVID-19 positive.

While Ottawa says only 1.8 per cent of air travellers entering the country test positive for the virus, those arriving from India and Pakistan account for a disproportionately high number of those cases.

India reported the world's highest daily tally of coronavirus infections for the fourth consecutive day on Sunday, surpassing 349,000 new cases, as it struggles with a health system overwhelmed by patients and plagued by accidents.

"We are constantly reviewing our measures at the border. I'm really pleased that we were able to act on shutting down flights from India and Pakistan," Freeland told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.

Ford calls for harsher border measures

The B1617 variant of the virus, which originated in India, may have accelerated that country's surge, some experts say.

Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta have all reported cases of the variant.

On Saturday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the strain, dubbed a "variant of interest" by the World Health Organization, was "heartbreaking" and "causing devastation" in India and other countries.

"We need more action on our borders right now. The federal government must close all non-essential travel to Canada immediately. The new border measures announced at the end of this week came far too late and don't do nearly enough to protect Canadians," Ford said in a statement.

"I'm pleading with the federal government to close the border before new variants push us into more lockdowns and another crisis."

Ford himself has been criticized for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, facing pressure for not implementing a paid sick leave program and apologizing to Ontarians on Thursday for introducing a number of measures not recommended by public health experts.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, shown at a news conference in Toronto on April 7, wants Ottawa to implement stronger measures at Canada's land and air borders. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

His plea comes after he joined Quebec Premier François Legault in penning a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — before the flight ban was announced — calling for tougher border action.

"There is an urgent need to address issues with testing and quarantining at the borders, including falsified COVID-19 testing documentation, travellers opting [for] fines over complying [with] quarantine requirements, or travelling via private vehicle/plane to avoid quarantine, among several other areas of concern," the letter reads.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole also called on the Liberal government this week to temporarily suspend flights from countries where variants have originated. 

'The buck stops at our own entry points': Loh

Dr. Lawrence Loh, the medical officer of health for Ontario's Peel Region, where Canada's largest airport is located, says the recent flight restrictions do help.

"But I think really the buck stops at our own entry points and border, and to the extent that we're trying to get things under control and hopeful with the vaccine rollout ... we will," Loh said in a separate interview on Rosemary Barton Live.

"I think we need to really look at how we are looking at quarantine to prevent future introductions once we manage to bring this third wave under control."

The Public Health Agency of Canada told CBC News it was aware of 247 tickets issued in Ontario and 157 in B.C. for travellers arriving in the country who did not book a stay in a government-authorized hotel and subsequently refused to isolate in one.

WATCH | How Peel Region is moving to contain the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces:

How Peel Region is moving to contain the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces

1 year ago
Duration 9:03
Peel Region continues a 'priority review' of workplaces that may need to be temporarily closed by a public health order to contain COVID-19 outbreaks. The region's COVID-19 infection rate is among the highest in Canada.

On Friday, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Canada is prepared to supply India with the medical equipment it needs to contend with the country's rising caseload.

"We will stand ready with PPE and ventilators and any items that might be useful for the government of India," Anand said at a news conference.

"I, of course, have a very personal connection with that country. But on a broader level, when we see a country in need in that regard, we do stand ready."

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.

With files from Thomson Reuters

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