Travellers returning to British Columbia from abroad will have to commit to specific plans to self-isolate as part of the province’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Premier John Horgan announced the policy on Wednesday, saying it will take effect at Vancouver International Airport and land border crossings.
“It is mandatory for those coming back to British Columbia to have a plan,” Mr. Horgan told a news conference in Victoria, saying the new order takes effect on Friday.
While the province is ready to go in enacting the new policy, the Premier said Ottawa will be deploying resources to help in coming days.
The Premier cast the measure as one that recruits travellers into a fight that British Columbians have been waging at home while the travellers were away, and he said it is timed to match the return of snowbirds as well as the arrival of repatriation flights organized by the federal government.
“We’ve been staying home. We have been giving up some of our liberties in the interest of the benefit of the greater good. As people return to British Columbia, we have an expectation they will follow suit,” Mr. Horgan said.
The Premier said he hopes residents of the province who see travellers, at home, “acting badly” in terms of sticking to their original plans, will call them out on their behaviour and, if they don’t co-operate, contact either the police or the public-health office so they can take action.
Under the federal Quarantine Act, the order to self-isolate is enforceable by the RCMP with maximum penalties including fines of up to $750,000 and/or imprisonment for six months, and up to $1-million and/or imprisonment up to three years for a person who causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm.
Even with the slowdown in travel linked to the pandemic, hundreds of travellers are arriving at Vancouver International Airport every day.
The federal government has declared that all Canadians coming home from abroad must go into self-isolation for 14 days, and Mr. Horgan cast the B.C. policy as a move to ensure that those travellers actually follow through on that order.
Symptomatic travellers who don’t have a plan are to be taken to quarantine sites until they either figure one out or for the 14 days required, the Premier said.
However, Mr. Horgan had no details on exactly how that will work. “With respect to quarantine sites, that’s not information I have available to me,” the Premier said, adding B.C. is working on the issue with the federal government.
“That is something, in consultation with the federal government, that we’re working on, to ensure that if you don’t have a plan, we have a place for you to go to until you figure it out, and, if you don’t have it figured out, you’ll stay there for 14 days.”
Andrew Wilkinson, leader of the opposition BC Liberals who is also a physician, said in an interview that quarantine sites are a necessity given the circumstances around a pandemic that has affected hundreds of British Columbians and led to 48 deaths in the province.
“The goal now is to continue the suppression of this viral epidemic, and that has to be done in a way that is effective to prevent a secondary wave, which could be worse than the first wave, and if that takes quarantine sites then so be it,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
He said his only concern is that the measures announced Wednesday could have been enacted by the federal government weeks ago.
The B.C. government has long been concerned about the impact of returning travellers. “We identified this as a problem early on,” Mr. Horgan said. Now, the province has been empowered by the Quarantine Act enacted by the federal government.
The Premier said that the fact that international flights to B.C. now being funnelled to Vancouver airport will bolster the ability to manage this program.
Details on the mandatory plans will be provided to air travellers on their way into B.C. and travellers can submit their plans online or upon arrival to the province.
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