Passengers from Air India flight 187 from New Delhi wait for their transportation to quarantine after arriving at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Passengers from Air India flight 187 from New Delhi wait for their transportation to quarantine after arriving at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Leaders urge Ottawa to beef up restrictions for travellers to Canada as COVID variants surge

The B.1.617 variant that appears to be wreaking havoc in India has been detected in provinces

Ontario’s premier got emotional Thursday as he apologized for a mistake in the province’s COVID-19 fight, while other provincial leaders made tough decisions to tackle surging variant cases and pushed for federal travel restrictions.

“I’m sorry and I sincerely apologize,” Doug Ford said from his home where he is isolating after being exposed to COVID-19.

“Because as premier, as I said right from the beginning, the buck stops with me.”

Ford choked up talking about how people were angry after his government increased police enforcement powers and closed playgrounds last Friday, decisions which have since been reversed.

Ford also promised a paid sick-leave program.

The premier said there are no easy choices left as a devastating third wave of the pandemic washes over Ontario. There were 3,682 new cases reported Thursday and 40 more deaths. Hospitalizations and intensive care have reached the highest levels in the province since beginning of pandemic.

Quebec reported 1,248 new cases and seven more deaths but, weeks after implementing tighter restrictions in cities that became hot spots for fast-spreading variants, noted a slight drop in hospitalizations.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault joined a number of other premiers, including Ford, in calling for tougher quarantine rules for passengers on international flights and for people driving into Canada.

The B.1.617 variant that appears to be wreaking havoc in India was detected in Quebec earlier this week.

Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole took the call a step further. He said the federal government must temporarily suspend flights from hot-spot countries immediately.

A few hours later, the House of Commons adopted a motion calling for flights carrying non-essential travellers from certain countries, such as India and Brazil, to be barred. The federal government was expected to announce new restrictions later Thursday.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said no matter the restrictions in place, “now is not the time to be traveling abroad.”

Health Canada said about one per cent of arriving passengers are testing positive, but did not say how many have tested positive after 10 days.

Elsewhere, Nova Scotia closed its provincial boundary to non-essential travel from all parts of Canada — except Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador — as it deals with a spike in cases.

The province also reinstated “circuit breaker” restrictions for the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister rejected calls from Winnipeg’s mayor to tighten provincial restrictions to stop a steady climb of new infections in recent days. There were 258 new daily cases reported in the province, the highest number there since January.

Many politicians and health officials also voiced concerns about continued travel within Canada.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s provincial health officer, said the province’s incoming restrictions banning all non-essential travel outside health regions will slow down spread in COVID-19 hot spots.

There were 1,006 new cases of COVID-19 and four more deaths in B.C., as well as a record-high of 502 people in hospital.

Njoo said he felt discouraged by people making the choice to cross provincial boundaries for things like ski trips or holidays. He said too many health-care systems are overwhelmed and more people still need to get vaccinations.

“This is not the time for that,” he said. “There’s a crisis going on.”

Canada passed a vaccination milestone Thursday morning with more than 10 million people — about 30 per cent of the adult population — receiving at least one dose of vaccine.

Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading the country’s distribution effort, said he remains optimistic the number of vaccines coming into the country will continue to increase despite Moderna struggling with production and no further shipments of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine confirmed.

The first delivery of 300,000 Johnson & Johnson doses are to arrive in Canada next week and be distributed to the provinces the first week of May.

“Overall, the quantities of vaccines we can expect from manufacturers continue to grow so that more and more Canadians can continue to be vaccinated.”

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