University of Manitoba student stuck in Pakistan amid flight bans

University of Manitoba student Saif Mirza won’t be returning to Winnipeg as planned after the federal government announced a 30-day ban on all flights from Pakistan and India.

Mirza is currently living with family in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. He’s lived in Winnipeg for nearly six years.

“I’m a permanent resident there, so I’m equally Canadian I consider myself. So it was like I was going back to my second home,” Mirza says.

Read more: Canada’s travel ban on India, Pakistan will only delay COVID-19 spread, experts say

With in-person classes still cancelled at universities this year, he decided to fly back to Pakistan in August to live with family and save money, plus continue his studies virtually, but he says the situation still wasn’t ideal.

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“I miss university, hanging out with my friends, studying together and having interaction with professors,” Mirza says.

“Everything is now all email. I don’t know who my professor is and they don’t know who I am.”

He had planned on returning home this month after Ramadan, but those plans have been halted.

“Let’s finish my exams, and then I’ll go right away, and I had my ticket booked too,” Mirza says.

“I had so many plans, everything was done, my quarantine planning in Toronto. Then they said, it’s a ban.”

The federal minister of transport made the temporary ban announcement late last week, citing rising COVID-19 cases on flights.

Read more: Canada banning flights from India, Pakistan for 30 days as COVID-19 cases soar

“Given the higher number of COVID-19 cases detected in air passengers arriving from India and Pakistan, Transport Canada is issuing a notice to airmen, or NOTAM, to halt direct passenger air traffic from those countries,” Omar Alghabra said Thursday.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization reported more than 4,800 COVID-19 cases in Pakistan, compared to Canada’s nearly 7,000.

However, it’s the new highly contagious B.1.617 variant first identified in India that has the government concerned.

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Read more: COVID-19 variant first detected in India found in Canada. What we know so far

“I respect the decision because at this time health of Canadians matters the most. Every country is going to take steps, but at the same time, it’s not good for me because I was planning on going back,” Mirza says.

While he knows he could take multiple indirect flights to get to Winnipeg, he says it would be an expensive headache.

Read more: ‘In a limbo’ — Families concerned over India, Pakistan flight ban as COVID-19 cases surge

Mirza says the airline has since cancelled his flight, issuing him a voucher for the future. However, he says the amount was not returned in full, and he’s still waiting to see the rest of the money.

He’s also out a summer job in Winnipeg, as he was forced to turn down the offer once finding out he’ll be in Pakistan for at least another month.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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