Indian community in Windsor raises concerns over temporary ban on flights from India

·3 min read
Nandini Tirumala, project director with the South Asian Centre of Windsor, says she's worried that there is racist rhetoric surrounding the flight ban. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC - image credit)
Nandini Tirumala, project director with the South Asian Centre of Windsor, says she's worried that there is racist rhetoric surrounding the flight ban. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC - image credit)

The Indian community in Windsor is concerned for their loved ones as the federal government moves to ban flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days amid surging rates of COVID-19 cases and the threat of additional variants of concern.

Paresh Pandya, priest at the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center in Windsor, said he's anxious for his parents who, despite being Canadian, are stuck in India due to restrictions. They both contracted the virus six months ago and he's concerned about them getting it again.

"We never know who is going to be hit by ... COVID-19," he said. "We're really scared about anything happening at any time."

India reported a global record of more than 314,835 new infections Thursday, raising the country's total reported cases past 15.9 million since the pandemic began. It's the second-highest total in the world next to the United States.

Experts are also concerned the new B-1-617 variant found in the country — also called the "double mutant" — which they describe as being more virulent and deadly.

Paresh Pandya, priest at Hindu Temple and Cultural Center in Windsor, says he's anxious for his parents who, despite being Canadian, are currently stuck in India.
Paresh Pandya, priest at Hindu Temple and Cultural Center in Windsor, says he's anxious for his parents who, despite being Canadian, are currently stuck in India.(Mrinali Anchan/CBC)

Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced the flight ban on Thursday.

"As we've seen with our third wave, the COVID-19 pandemic can change rapidly," he said. "New variants can spread even faster than before and our health system is feeling even more pressure than ever before."

Passengers leaving India or Pakistan are permitted to enter Canada if they first fly to another country, but must produce a negative COVID-19 test from their most recent departure point.

In Windsor, community members are concerned that a ban will do more harm than good.

"We really want that to be the last resort, to try every other possibility to see if we can increase ... monitoring and more testing of travellers coming into the country, and to see how we can be restricted or limited," said Nandini Tirumala, project director with the South Asian Centre of Windsor.

"But to outright ban it just sends out the message to the community that this one particular country is having things out of control," she said, adding that many in the community in Windsor feel anxious about the ban.

The ban of all commercial and private passenger flights from India and Pakistan took into effect 11:30 p.m. Thursday.
The ban of all commercial and private passenger flights from India and Pakistan took into effect 11:30 p.m. Thursday.(motive56/Shutterstock)

Tirumala's family in India has also contracted COVID-19 at various points in the pandemic. She said she's worried that there is racist rhetoric surrounding the flight ban.

"It kind of also trickles down to everyday kind of interaction, everyday aggression between groups of people, racism, hate, and other kind of discrimination against those communities," she said.

Anxiety spikes as pandemic worsens

Tirumala said the centre has been reaching out and trying to support members in terms of providing them with mental health support.

Pandya said that there have been quite a few people from the community who have visited the temple, informing him of family members who have died in India because of the virus.

His temple has also started counselling services due to growing number of people in the Indian community, especially international students, who report experiencing anxiety.

The ban of all commercial and private passenger flights from India and Pakistan took effect 11:30 p.m. Thursday.