How the Delta variant beat the ban on flights from India

Sabrina Almeida

Despite our impressive sprint to the top bracket of the G7 and G20 countries for first doses of the vaccine, we must remain cautiously optimistic about where we are in our battle with the coronavirus. We can’t get complacent and let our guard down simply because we’re not in that safe space yet. Or know when we will be.  

The growing concern about the spread of the Delta variant in Peel and other regions of Ontario puts a damper on any joy or relief one might have felt about our vaccine rollout and uptake. It also underlines the importance of prioritizing second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon and other hotspots to get ahead of the fourth wave brewing there.

Peel officials are worried that a relatively slower roll out of second jabs combined with the reopening of activities, albeit a few, increases the risk of their region being engulfed by the highly-transmissible Indian variant.

At his weekly COVID-19 briefing in Brampton on Wednesday, Peel’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Loh urged residents to limit their contacts as much as possible during the first stage of the reopening. He pointed out that the first shot of the vaccine only provides 33 to 50% of protection against the Delta variant and may not be able to prevent resurgence if we re-engage too quickly.

So once again it’s a race between vaccines and the virus with the situation in Peel threatening to overturn any gains Ontario may have made in its pandemic battle. Simply put, we’re staring down another COVID-19 storm.

This might raise a logical question about how the Delta variant could have spread given that the ban on direct flights from India is now in its second month. Recent news reports about some Indian students who are paying travel agents thousands of dollars to circumvent the ban by flying to Canada through a third country (Muscat, Mexico City, Addis Ababa and Belgrade are transit points we are told) paint a pretty clear picture of how this deadly variant is being imported into the country.

Of course, I’m upset about this as are other Canadians who’ve done everything that’s been asked of them to get back to a normal life.

It seems like Canada has dropped the ball once again. Just like it did with the implementation of 14-day quarantine and the three-day hotel stay for international travellers? 

Were officials caught off guard? Surely, they can’t be that oblivious of what’s happening! The fact that a friend of Indian-origin who recently returned from an emergency trip to the Middle East was asked by a border security official whether she had visited her home country, leads me to think they’re aware of the loophole vis-a-vis indirect flights. But the real question here is  whether anything is being done to plug the loophole or penalize those taking advantage of it???

What about the second line of defense – the pre-boarding COVID-19 test — is the next question that might pop up in your mind? Well, that’s not fool proof either! Given the virus’ incubation period of five to seven days, PCR tests done after 14 hours in Muscat or three days in Belgrade and Addis Ababa might not identify the infection. And so some ingenious minds (probably Indian) have found a way to exploit the situation and circumvent the ban putting travellers and all of us here in harm’s way.

Students seem to be willing to risk the infection and pay the exorbitant rates just to get here… in the hopes of expediting their permanent residency no doubt. So Doug Ford’s request to stop international students from entering our borders for some time was a logical one. Yet that didn’t seem to go beyond his letter to Trudeau, rhetoric at media briefings and election-style ads attacking the federal government on the subject. And while Ford and Trudeau wasted time kicking the ball at each other, the Delta variant found its way in.

Should the Indian variant cause the fourth wave, poor implementation of border policies could be one of the main reasons why. 

Is Canada unwilling or unable to learn from its pandemic mistakes?

Or, are our politicians looking the other way because of the financial implications of turning international students away? 

We all know how important educational tourism and immigration are. But should they continue to be a priority even during a pandemic? Is it not apparent that our healthcare system and small businesses might not survive a fourth wave?

The ineffectiveness of our border protection policies vis-a-vis the coronavirus on account of the indecisiveness of politicians, botched implementation and lack of enforcement machinery raises a critical question about the message it sends — that Canada is a country where rules are made to be broken! The implications of this are very scary! 



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