The Canadian press

Families separated by India and Pakistan worry about their loved ones

Pankaj Kumar’s wife, who is five and a half months pregnant, was booked on a flight from India to Canada on Sunday. Now, Kumar said his wife Rupakshi Sharma will be stuck in Punjab because the federal government’s passenger flights from India and Pakistan are suspended. “Her father was diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy,” he said in an interview from her home in Brampton, Ont. “She just wanted to spend some time with her father.” The couple are now concerned that if the ban is extended beyond 30 days, Sharma will not be able to return because of their pregnancy. Kumar said he felt helpless. “So far I have no plan. It’s a mess,” he said. “If she wasn’t pregnant, I would have said just stay there.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the flights had to be suspended to keep Canadians safe. Trudeau said this was necessary because there had been spikes in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of other worrying variants in certain parts of the world. “It was determined that further steps need to be taken,” he said on Friday. Tests at border crossings have shown that half of the people who tested positive for the novel coronavirus after arriving in Canada by plane came from India. There were also a disproportionate number of positive cases from travelers from Pakistan. All commercial and private passenger flights coming to Canada from both countries were suspended at 11:30 p.m. on Thursday. The new travel measures were announced under pressure from provincial leaders, who said not enough had been done to keep infectious varieties out of the country. Variant B. 1.617, which appears to cause widespread infections in India, has been discovered in several provinces. Kumar said he understood the need to suspend travel, but added that the government should have paid more attention to the people. “You should notify people at least a week earlier. You can’t say the flights are suspended at 5pm.” The travel policies require that people arriving from India and Pakistan via indirect flights receive a negative COVID-19 test at the last point they landed before arriving in Canada. Public Safety Secretary Bill Blair said Canada has already placed significant demands on returning travelers, which has helped reduce the spread of COVID-19. Haiqa Cheema’s 77-year-old grandmother Bibi Bashiran was looking forward to returning to Pakistan to celebrate Oath. Cheema said Bashiran was “a little sad” when her granddaughter told her that all flights from Pakistan and India had been suspended. Bashiran, who visits her son’s family in Edmonton every year, was booked on May 14 for a flight to Pakistan. The family had to struggle to get a visa extension for them. “Your visa will expire on May 15 or 16,” Cheema said in an interview. “We do not want to overwhelm your visa stay, as this will lead to complications in the future.” Flights can go from Canada to Pakistan, she said. But because there are no inbound flights, the airline it was supposed to be flying with canceled all outbound flights as well. Cheema and her father spoke to Bashiran about the suspension, including the possibility of an extension. “I think she’s waiting and watching,” she said. “She lives on an open house in Pakistan. But here because it’s so cold, she’s inside and she was really looking forward to going back. Technically, she’s safer here, but the mental health component is huge.” The Pakistani High Commissioner for Canada, Raza Bashir Tarar, has asked the federal government to reconsider this. Tarar said in a letter to Transport Minister Omar Alghabra that the decision to suspend passenger flights from Pakistan revealed a lack of understanding about South Asia. “It ignores the fact that both trains and flights do not run between the two countries (India and Pakistan),” he wrote. “The ban on flights from Pakistan because a new variant has developed in another country whose population has no way of contacting Pakistan is contrary to logic.” He also noted that Pakistan had fewer cases than India and no worrying variants were identified. More than a year ago, Canada banned all non-essential land and air travel from abroad, and the border with the United States was closed. Individuals returning to Canada must present a negative COVID-19 test in front of the board, receive another test upon arrival, and quarantine for two weeks. There are some exceptions for essential workers. Blair said the other restrictions were added on the recommendation of the Canadian Health Department. “We will always do what is necessary to protect the communities from COVID.” Arati Sood’s husband wanted to visit his father, who was diagnosed with cancer. Debasish Chakraborty went to Assam, India on March 30th. Chakraborty’s father died of a heart attack on Thursday. “Fortunately, he was able to see his father and help him,” said Sood of her home in Mississauga, Ont. “But things do happen.” Chakraborty was scheduled to return to Canada on April 28th. She is disappointed with the sudden suspension of flights from India. Sood said the government could have extended the quarantine period, asked people to pay to stay in hotels, or even given more notice before suspending flights. “In the last week we have been struggling with one thing or another. And now with this suspension,” she said. “I just want him to come home.” This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 24, 2021. Hina Alam, The Canadian Press