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Vancouver Island’s Chief Medical Health Officer is calling for a cutoff of unnecessary travel between the island and the rest of the province to counter the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Richard Stanwick said in an interview on Monday that travel has contributed “significantly" to the burden of the pandemic virus on Vancouver Island, with 66 cases between Sept. 1 and Nov. 10 linked to people travelling elsewhere.

He said he has discussed the problem with Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer, and recommended they consider curbing non-essential travel for a period of time.

He said people need to wait until they have received doses of a COVID-19 vaccine before freely travelling again.

Dr. Stanwick said there were 41 new cases on Vancouver Island over the weekend – last Friday there were 17 – largely linked to transmission on the island. However, he said he remains concerned about the consequences of travel.

Asked about escalating the suggestion to an order, Dr. Stanwick said in an e-mail that Dr. Henry “can always escalate it to an order if the desired effect is not being realized.”

During a news conference on Monday, Dr. Henry urged against any unnecessary travel in British Columbia.

She made her plea as the province reported a total of 1,959 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday, for a total of 6,279 active B.C. cases. There are 181 individuals hospitalized with the pandemic virus, 57 in intensive care. The update includes word of nine new COVID-19 deaths for a total of 299 in B.C.

Dr. Henry said a broader limit on travel needs to be a tool in the fight against COVID-19.

“I strongly encourage people to limit your travel as much as possible,” Dr. Henry said. “And that is in all areas of the province.”

Dr. Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, on Nov. 7, announced a series of health orders focused on social gatherings, group physical activities and workplaces to curb the spread of COVID-19. They also recommended against unnecessary travel into and out of the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health areas – hot spots for the pandemic.

They said those outside the regions should not visit unless it is essential. But with Dr. Henry’s remarks Monday, she went further, extending the request to cover travel across British Columbia.

"The virus comes with us, and when we travel, we bring that risk with us, and we take home the risk from where we have been.” She added, “We need to stay local.”

Vivek Sharma, chair of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C., expressed concerns about Dr. Henry’s remarks.

“While we recognize the province’s request to curtail non-essential travel, we’re concerned that tourism operators will again bear the brunt of the impact," Mr. Sharma said in a statement.

"It’s important to note that travel is not the culprit for increasing transmission rates but rather people’s behaviour. That’s where we need to step up our efforts.”

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