The Government of Canada wanted to stop the variants a few months ago, so they… forced non-essential travelers to go spend 1-3 days in a hotel instead of at home (but they changed nothing about the fact that 81% of the hundreds of thousands who enter Canada every week are exempt from even quarantining at all). And they asked airlines to suspend flights to… Mexico and the Caribbean (but not from places variants were emerging). This time, they are banning flights from India and Pakistan.
Variants have made their way into Canada. It’s almost as if Canada’s hotel quarantine was a completely ineffective measure, as we’ve said since the start…
(Our detailed post on the topic will be published tomorrow—along with our guide to entering Canada by land with no hotel quarantine, as I did this week).
But for once, the government is actually making a decision based on data! However, to be clear: this flight suspension doesn’t change anything about who is (or is not) allowed to enter Canada.
Here are the details.
We’ve updated our ultimate guide to all of Canada’s COVID-19 international travel rules.
Here is what was announced yesterday about flights from India and Pakistan:
Many have a hard time understanding rules that can seem complex, but it’s actually simple: those who are departing from India and Pakistan who were allowed to enter Canada yesterday are still allowed to enter Canada today.
They just no longer have direct flights, so they have to transit via another country (just like Canadians can fly to and from Mexico and the Caribbean via the USA). See below.
However, there is a new extra rule: those arriving from India and Pakistan will need their pre-entry PCR test to be done in the transit country (not in India or Pakistan). This is a new rule that is unique to these 2 countries only.
In other words, despite Canada’s India and Pakistan flight ban:
Flight bans make entering a country logistically more complicated, yes… but they don’t change anything to the actual rules for entry. I’ve included a section with more details below if you want to learn more.
Canada’s India flight ban – motivation
The federal government clearly doesn’t make many travel-related decisions based on data (see the whole travel-shaming saga earlier this year and the numbers that have never justified a hotel quarantine that changes nothing).
But for once they did with this ban!
Since all passengers are being tested on arrival in February (yes, it took them 11 months to put that very basic measure in place…), only 1.8% of passengers are testing positive.
For comparison, 6.1% of non-travelers tested in Canada yesterday tested positive (and 3.1% of all Canadians have already tested positive).
Well, despite representing just 20% of passengers, those arriving from India represented 50% of all positive tests.
In other words, by excluding passengers arriving from India, only about 1.1% of passengers arriving in Canada test positive.
In banning India flights, Canada is following the lead of many other countries that have taken this step in recent days. If only Canada could also follow their lead on adopting an evidence-based approach with measures that take into account the coronavirus situation where the traveler was instead of a one-size-fits-all approach… as many other countries have a list of safe countries where you can return from with less-strict rules.
Canada’s India flight ban – alternatives
The fact is, with the extra PCR test requirement, Canada’s India flight ban does make travel more complicated and expensive. But it sure does not make it impossible.
There are flight alternatives with just one stop (and costing well under $1,000) that allow those who are currently in India and Pakistan to enter Canada…
For example, Istanbul (IST) is a major hub that has differentiated itself since last year by offering affordable PCR tests at the airport directly, for just 250 TRY (C$38).
Many European countries also allow airport transits and have testing options.
In short, as long as those traveling from India or Pakistan are allowed to enter Canada (citizens, residents, and exceptions) and can get a PCR test at their airport of transit, they can easily make their way to Canada.
Canada’s India flight ban – what it means
Okay, pardon the excessive bolding and slight bluntness but we’ll try to be as clear as possible so that hopefully more people can finally make sense of how all this works! Please ask any questions in the comments to help us help everyone understand.
Here it is:
Whether there are flights between 2 countries or not has absolutely nothing to do with whether citizens can enter or not.
Nothing at all!
Those are 2 completely separate and unrelated things:
To give a concrete example, direct flights from Canada to France have never stopped operating, even in March 2020. Yet, Canadian travelers were not allowed to enter France and French travelers were not allowed to enter Canada.
The flights are still operating today. Canadian travelers still can’t enter France. French travelers still can’t enter Canada. There are flights, but you can’t enter.
Flights and entry rules:
All this can be confusing, but it’s not that complicated:
Simple enough once you know, right?
Border closures vs. entry restrictions vs. flight bans
I’ll try another approach in my mission to make Canadians travelers more knowledgeable about this aspect of travel: let’s define the 3 terms that are widely used.
Oh and by the way… why is it important to understand how this all works? It’s not just that debunking false information is important.
It’s that no matter when you’ll be ready to travel, some of these measures will certainly still be in place in some countries. There are 193 countries (and even more that aren’t recognized by the UN) and they each make their own rules. And some will surely be slower to remove all restrictions than others.
So it’s good to be informed, especially since it’s actually easier than it looks if you take 5 minutes to understand.
Ther are 3 terms always used when talking about travel-related measures:
It’s the wording everyone loves to use and probably the most frequently used… and it’s the one that doesn’t even really mean anything concrete.
None of our borders is closed. We have agents at every border (at land border crossings and airports) and plenty of people are entering. It’s very much open for many travelers: millions have entered Canada since March according to the Canada Border Services Agency.
What many call border closures are border closures for specific types of travelers, and so those are in fact… entry restrictions.
This is the measure that actually exists. An entry restriction (or entry ban) keeps certain nationalities from entering the country (or it can be based on other criteria; we’ll have a separate post on how entry restrictions alone).
Entry restrictions rarely apply to every traveler, as there are often exceptions for essential travelers of that nationality. But leisure travelers are pretty much always included when there is an entry restriction for a specific nationality.
All our borders are “open” to let in those who aren’t targeted by the entry restrictions (like ALL Canadians, and many non-Canadians).
Most of the confusion around all these measures probably comes from the fact that many don’t understand that Canadians are always allowed to enter Canada, no matter where they arrive from or how they arrive.
There are so many people who think that a “closed border” applies to everyone (the world of travel has always been one with many myths). Anyway, Canada’s border is only closed to foreigners who want to enter for leisure travel.
The only thing that determines whether you can enter a country is whether that country has an entry restriction that applies to you. That’s it. Nothing to do with anything else, especially not whether flights are allowed or offered between the countries.
That’s why plenty of Canadians have traveled since last summer: plenty of countries have no entry restrictions for Canadians, and returning to Canada is never banned for Canadians (as long as you can find a flight, which is a completely separate topic).
A flight ban is when a country restricts flights from other countries. And again: even if flights are banned, it doesn’t mean you can’t travel from that country to Canada: you just need to do it via another country… as long as no entry restriction applies to you.
I can’t even start to count how many people thought Canada had a flight ban since March. There has never been one until December’s brief UK flight ban. Some countries had them, but not Canada.
A very frequently asked question about this is: why are there flights (for example those same Montreal-Paris flights) if Canadian travelers can’t enter France and French travelers can’t enter Canada?
Simple: there are foreign essential travelers, Canadians returning to Canada, French travelers returning to France, French travelers with Canadian family members that can enter Canada, and even cargo in some cases.
So as we’ve been saying for months: the fact there are flights offered or not is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether there is an entry restriction.
It’s simple when you think about it. There is just one thing that determines if you can travel, that’s the entry restriction. Everything else is about if you should travel.
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Canada now has a ban on flights from India and Pakistan. Direct flights are no longer permitted, but this changes nothing to Canada’s entry rules. Those who are in India and Pakistan can transit via another country to get to Canada, as long as they get a PCR test in a third country (and were already allowed to enter Canada, of course).
What do you think of Canada’s India flight ban? Tell us in the comments below.
Featured image: Taj Mahal (photo credit: Sylwia Bartyzel)
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