B.C. Premier John Horgan is urging countrywide restrictions on non-essential travel ahead of the December holiday season, an effort to ensure COVID-19 cases aren’t transported across the country as caseloads surge in many regions.
Non-essential travel within the Lower Mainland is already banned, and broader restrictions across the province are expected to be announced on Thursday. Beyond that, Mr. Horgan said he will ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and fellow premiers to help curb interprovincial travel.
“We need a pan-Canadian approach to travel. We need to make sure that people in Coquitlam are living under the same rules as people in Chicoutimi. We need to make sure that those who want to come to B.C. must only do so if it is essential for their business or their well-being,” he told reporters Wednesday during a news conference.
He said British Columbia will respect Canadians’ constitutional right to mobility between the provinces, but he wants other provinces to send a consistent message to their residents to stay home. Those limits are likely necessary until an effective vaccine can be distributed, he said.
“I’m asking the federal government to work with us and other provinces to get the message out that if you do not have to travel between jurisdictions, you shouldn’t do so,” he said. “The people of Quebec and Ontario and Manitoba need to know that they should stay in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba until we get to a place where we can start distributing a vaccine across the country.”
Quebec, Ontario, B.C. and the Prairie provinces have been grappling with a surge in new cases this fall since the second wave of the pandemic arrived.
Mr. Horgan noted that British Columbians are already facing temporary travel restrictions that were imposed on Nov. 9, and said those limits are likely to be broadened as the province grapples with record-breaking numbers of new cases. On Wednesday, the province once again broke its record of daily new cases, with 762 new infections and 10 additional deaths from COVID-19.
“If you don’t need to travel, don’t travel," Mr. Horgan said. “This is not the time to go storm watching on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This is not the time to plan for a large gathering of friends over the Christmas holiday. We need to focus on getting through the winter, getting through this second wave.”
The provincial government has maintained that the spike in cases this fall can be traced back mostly to social gatherings. However, there is growing concern about transmissions in schools and businesses, and related to travel.
Just weeks ago, the B.C. Hotel Association and Tourism Vancouver Island launched a campaign targeting Canadian “snowbirds” to consider the West Coast as an alternate haven for the winter. The pandemic has devastated B.C.’s tourism and hospitality sector, and while the province promoted “staycations” in the summer, many businesses are struggling to stay afloat.
Anthony Everett, president and chief executive officer of Tourism Vancouver Island, said his organization put its snowbird campaign on hold when local travel restrictions on the mainland were first announced on Nov. 9. “We’ve changed our messaging to, ‘Now is not the time to travel,’” he said in an interview.
His industry has been anxiously waiting for the provincial government to fully resume operations after the snap election this fall interrupted economic recovery plans.
“How are we going to start to recover? We need businesses to be there when we can all travel again. I don’t think that government programs have yet filled that gap entirely and that’s got to be the big push in B.C.,” Mr. Everett said. “We need a cabinet, we need a minister, someone we can work with so we can start solving some of these things, because they are urgent.”
B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, will announce new measures on Thursday to try to contain the second wave, Mr. Horgan said. Skyrocketing cases, particularly in Surrey, have led to a more regional approach to restrictions, but now the province is under pressure to protect those regions where case counts are still relatively low.
“Dr. Henry will have more to say about gyms and other businesses [Thursday] as she finalizes the orders that she’ll be bringing forward then. But I’m confident that British Columbians get this,” he said. “We need to bear down for the next couple of weeks to make sure that we can stop this spike in transmission of COVID-19.”
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