British Columbia

B.C. travel restrictions don't go far enough, says SFU researcher studying pandemics and borders

With dozens of flights still landing at Vancouver's international airport every day, a researcher studying how borders are managed during pandemics says the latest measures put in place to limit non-essential travel in B.C. don't go far enough.

Tighter restrictions on inter-provincial travel needed in addition to latest local travel measures

An electronic sign on a highway in Metro Vancouver reminding residents to keep to their local areas under new non-essential travel restrictions meant to slow COVID-19 infections. (Doug Kerr/CBC News)

With dozens of flights still landing at Vancouver's international airport every day, a researcher studying how borders are managed during pandemics says the latest measures put in place to limit non-essential travel in B.C. don't go far enough.

"We definitely welcomed the announcements, but it felt a little like two steps forward and one step back," said Simon Fraser University's Julianne Piper with the Pandemics and Borders Project, which studies how cross-border measures are used to limit the spread of contagious diseases like COVID-19.

On Friday, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth brought in legal orders under the provincial Emergency Program Act to restrict non-essential travel between areas of the province.

The move divided B.C. into three zones by combining the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions into one, Northern Health and Interior Health into another, and leaving Island Health as its own zone. 

The formal order for the restrictions is in effect until Tuesday, May 25, which is the end of the May long weekend, and could result in a fine of $575 if contravened.

Piper says that for the most populated areas of B.C. — including cities in Metro Vancouver, the Sea-to-Sky corridor and the Fraser Valley — the restrictions don't represent much of a change, especially as the government is encouraging people to get outside.

"If you have the government saying stay home, stay local, but also get outside, go hiking, go camping, but don't go too far ... and the measures that are being implemented are from Hope to Whistler … it's difficult to see how this will impact people's decisions in their daily lives," she said.

Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman says he hopes people don't confuse the government's decision to combine Coastal and Fraser Health with an open invitation to visit his community, which has had a high level of infections.

"In announcing that the two regions were combined on one hand and saying, 'Stay home in your communities,' which they're clearly articulating, it still leaves a fair area for confusion," he said.

Piper is also worried about inter-provincial travel even though Farnworth said signs would be put along the B.C./Alberta border informing travellers of the local travel restrictions in B.C.

Essential travel into the province is still allowed without the need to quarantine.

"There still remain many loopholes," Piper said about travel restrictions in Canada.

The Tsawwassen ferry terminal was very quiet on Saturday, April 24. (Doug Kerr/CBC News)

On Sunday, dozens of flights from destinations throughout British Columbia, Canada and abroad will arrive at Vancouver's airport.

"You will see people in British Columbia saying, 'Why am I being asked to stay put when we are still seeing exposures from flights coming into B.C. from other parts of Canada and internationally?'" Piper said. 

The Pandemics and Borders Project, led by Kelley Lee, has been calling for restrictions on inter-provincial travel since January. The group's research has shown that jurisdictions that implement travel restrictions quickly are successful at containing highly infectious disease like COVID-19.

Discouragement versus punishment

Meantime, the province said the earliest it would have reports from police departments on tickets issued under the Emergency Program Act specifically related to the new travel restrictions would be Monday, May 3.

It said the order is designed to discourage and stop recreational and leisure travel, not punish people.

The Vancouver Police Department said Saturday night that it had not yet issued any fines in relation to the new restrictions since they were brought into force on Friday.

With files from Joel Ballard and Rafferty Baker

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