The minister announced the extension during the weekly Public Health Agency of Canada press conference just one day before the original ban was set to expire.
“Direct commercial and private passenger flights from India and Pakistan will continue to be denied permission to arrive in Canada,” the minister said during a press conference on Friday.
“This is not the right time to loosen any measures right now,” he said.
The earlier 30-day flight ban from India and Pakistan which set to expire Saturday will now be extended to June 21. The move comes amid growing concerns over a highly transmissible variant of the novel coronavirus first discovered in India.
The B.1.617 variant first identified in India late last year includes a pair of mutations that the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare says may confer “immune escape and increased infectivity.”
The B.1.617 variant has been identified in Canada and other countries, and the federal government cited concern over the spread of the variant as a reason when the initial travel ban was announced on April 22.
“Our initial decision last month was based on data observed through public health,” Alghabra said.
“The data had shown an disproportional amount of infection for arrivals coming from both India and Pakistan and the decision was, as we had promised Canadians, we would do whatever it takes to protect their health and safety,” he added.
However, Alghabra also said that there has been “a significant reduction in the number of positive cases of COVID-19 arriving from international flights since this restriction was put in place.”
“There is still increased pressure on our health care system because of the pandemic so we must continue to be vigilant,” he added.
Federal government data has shown that the travel ban may have helped at least minimize the arrival of COVID-19 cases in Canada.
Health Canada data posted online earlier this month showed 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. In the past two weeks, that number fell again to 37.