VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — B.C.’s health minister says no more restrictions on travel are coming, but one public health expert says the province needs to move beyond advisories and recommendations against non-essential trips as COVID-19 cases spike.
“I just can’t be more clear on this. If you don’t need to travel, don’t travel right now. If you don’t need to travel, don’t travel,” Adrian Dix said Monday, repeating a plea health officials have made throughout the pandemic.
“You can’t force them not to move around, that’s a very difficult thing to do. We don’t live in that kind of state in British Columbia. We can’t have armies of people enforcing those rules that we’re asking people are saying it’s the guidance is for their own safety and the safety of others.”
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Professor Kelley Lee, Canada Research Chair in Global Health Governance at SFU, began advocating for stronger measures to curb travel before variants of concern began circulating in British Columbia.
“Alongside the federal government putting in measures for the international borders, I was trying to urge the provincial government to look at interprovincial travel, people coming in for non-essential reasons,” she says.
“What’s really frustrating, looking at this now, is that the provincial government said that was not possible logistically — it was not necessary even. They weren’t seeing that this was a problem at the time.”
In January, Premier John Horgan sought a review of legal options in light of concerns being raised that travel was contributing to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“The review of our legal options made it clear we can’t prevent people from travelling to British Columbia. We can impose restrictions on people travelling for non-essential purposes if they are causing harm to the health and safety of British Columbians,” he said in a statement.
And restrictions are precisely what Lee says the province can and should implement. She adds restrictions in Manitoba and the Atlantic provinces have been successful, and she’s not sure why leaders in B.C. seem so reluctant to consider them.
“I think from the beginning we’ve always said that you can’t hermetically seal the province that’s just impossible. What we’ve asked the government to do is look at carrots and sticks,” she explains.
“What you can do is create disincentives, whether it’s surcharges, whether it’s mandatory quarantine, whether it’s asking hotels not to book people who are coming from outside the province or outside their community. Those are the things that could be used — not just policing, which is something that is kind of extreme.”
Now, she worries B.C. has missed it’s chance to stop the spread of the virus, and that the messaging from the province continues to fall on deaf ears.
“Here we are. We have a serious problem with variants. We missed the boat on that. Now it’s almost too late to close the door because we’ve let them in, they’ve spread around the province, and they’re causing a serious uptick in cases,” she says.
“The government has pleaded with the public. It’s like a parent who keeps raising their voice or furrowing their eyebrows, and yet there’s no consequences, so the child still misbehaves or doesn’t comply with what you’re asking them to do.”
Leading up to and over the long weekend Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry continued to advise against travel, urging people to stay close to home.
Travel persists over long weekend
Ucluelet Mayor Mayco Noel says he saw the same in his district.
“Definitely we had a few more people than usual coming to enjoy the sunny weather this Easter,” he said.
“They’re coming here probably, knowing that it’s not probably fully permitted, and they’re coming here and truly being very respectful.”
Lee says even if people are following guidelines once they get to their destination, movement within the province remains a problem.
“They continue to say, ‘I’m sure it’s fine, I’ll be safe, I’ll wear my mask, I’ll social distance, and it won’t be me that’s moving the virus around.’ Unfortunately with a lot of people doing that you will get virus being introduced around the province,” she says.