Brampton calls to close Pearson Airport

City near Canada’s largest international airport worries that continued flights from COVID hotspots put its own population at risk

Brampton close Pearson
The control tower at Toronto-Pearson International Airport, lit green for Earth Day April 22, 2021 (Twitter/TorontoPearson).

The city council in Brampton, Ontario, called for nearby Pearson International to close to flights from all COVID-19 hotspots, both foreign and domestic. The move comes even as the federal government bars non-stop flights from India and Pakistan.

“We do have a problem at Pearson Airport continuing to operate at a high capacity,” Brampton mayor Patrick Brown told city council. “And one of the reasons that we’re in a predicament right now is that the variants have taken control. And the variants got into the country because our borders weren’t closed.”

“At some point, we need to ensure that nobody’s leaving and nobody’s coming in,” said Councillor Michael Palleschi. He seconded a council motion calling for tighter border controls. It passed unanimously. “Any tools that the government can give us to help stop the spread are tools that are much needed.”

Canada already has some of the most stringent border controls in the world. Most non-Canadians are barred from entering the country. The Canadian government cannot stop Canadians from entering or leaving, but it does recommend against foreign travel. It also imposes pre and post-flight COVID testing and a 14-day quarantine period for those who do come.

The effect has been drastic. In February, the most recent month for which data are available, only 26,000 non-Canadians entered the country from overseas, Statistics Canada reported. On top of that, Canadians are taking fewer trips abroad. “In February, 79,600 Canadian residents returned home from travel overseas, down 50.4% from January and down 93.5% from February 2020,” said StatsCan.


Banning flights from India and Pakistan

On Thursday, federal officials went further. They banned non-stop flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days. On top of that, the government ordered anyone connecting to Canada to get a COVID test where they connect. India has some of the highest COVID rates in the world. About two dozen weekly flights are affected by the decision.

“We have established some of the strongest border measures in the world, to test, screen, and quarantine incoming travellers,” said federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu in a statement. “With the current pressure on hospitals and health care workers, we also need to reduce our contacts and avoid crowded places more than ever.”

Canada is in the midst of its own third wave. Hajdu told reporters that less than two per cent of people entering the country test positive for COVID. But of those, almost half arrived on flights from India and Pakistan. Most of those flights arrive at Pearson, normally Canada’s busiest airport.

Brown called the ban “a step in the right direction.” But, he added, governments should also look at internal flight restrictions.

What about domestic flights?

“If you look at British Columbia right now, even domestically, they’re having a real battle with the variants,” he told television station CP24. “Some days we have six flights coming to Toronto from British Columbia. And so I would prefer if we restricted all air travel to only essential commercial aviation.”

Airports report that aviation continues to struggle in Canada. The number of passengers is down about 90% from pre-pandemic levels. That has had a dramatic impact on airport finances. Toronto lost $383 million in 2020, and passenger numbers are not improving yet. And further restrictions are likely to make the struggle even harder.

“It’s still a very active airport,” said Brown. “So we’re nervous about some of those variants getting into the country.”

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Categories: COVID, Toronto