British Columbia

Premier John Horgan says a Vancouver Island travel ban is a possibility

The B.C. premier says his government will consider travel restrictions to and from Vancouver Island to slow the spread of COVID-19.

B.C. leader says he will 'absolutely' tighten travel restrictions if necessary

B.C. Premier John Horgan says a travel ban to and from Vancouver Island is a possibility. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

While the vast majority of the hundreds of new COVID-19 cases being reported every day in B.C. are concentrated in Metro Vancouver, all five of the provincial health regions are contributing to the growing total.

With British Columbians now in the middle of the pandemic's second wave, it is understandable people want to know if further orders and restrictions are on the way. 

B.C. Premier John Horgan, in an interview Tuesday with CBC's On The Island host Gregor Craigie, discussed the current state of affairs and what may, or may not, change in the coming days.

How concerned are you about the latest numbers?

These numbers are troubling, particularly in the Fraser Health Authority. [The COVID-19 situation] on the Island has been pretty good over the past 10 months, but we've seen an increase over the past week and that's troubling for we islanders.

We've been very responsive as a community here on the Island particularly, but also right across B.C.

So Dr. Henry has brought in new orders and again tried to reinforce with people that we need to get back to the good practices we demonstrated at the start of the pandemic if we're going to bend the curve.

Island Health Medical Officer Dr. Richard Stanwick says he is compiling data to show your government it should consider further travel restrictions to and from Vancouver Island. Is that something you would consider?

Absolutely. We value Dr. Stanwick's input, working with Dr. Henry and other health officials. We're following the science and that's the only way to get through this.

We have not yet put in place sufficient data to make blanket restrictions to and from different places, but Dr. Henry has brought in orders to restrict non-essential travel. So if you were planning on going storm watching in Tofino this weekend, it's not a good time to do that.

I wonder about this encouraging rather than enforcing approach. While masks are mandatory on ferries and in medical buildings, does it concern you that people are not wearing masks everywhere?

It does disappoint me that British Columbians are just disregarding good advice. But the biggest challenges where we are seeing outbreaks is at private gatherings, not at the grocery store. 

A mandatory mask requirement would not have had an impact, for example, on people gathering in large numbers for a Thanksgiving meal back in October or on people having a crew over to watch a football game. 

We don't want to use a stick. We believe that common sense has worked very well for B.C. and I'm going to stick with that until Dr. Henry advises otherwise. 

But at some point, if the numbers keep going up, would you be willing to reconsider that and move to the stick?

Absolutely. And I'm not suggesting that we will not go there, but I'm waiting for the science to tell us to do that. Dr. Henry would prefer, and I agree, that we focus on the trouble spots right now — which are gymnasiums that have too many people and people spreading the virus at physical fitness facilities.

As we get into the depth of fall, and a second wave is clearly upon us, all of us have to focus on keeping each other safe and being mindful of our neighbours and that's the best advice possible. Fines will also be issued when appropriate.

But the mandatory mask mandate has become an issue that everyone has an opinion on and I'm going to take the opinion of Dr. Henry, Dr. Stanwick and others when it comes to that. 

What about financial aid? Will you be able to call the legislature back soon enough to issue the $1,000 cheques that were promised [to B.C. families] in the election campaign? 

That's our hope, but because of the extraordinary time we're in, I don't want to make promises that I can't keep.

I can promise that the COVID benefit will be distributed to British Columbians and the Ministry of Finance is working on it now.

We will require legislative approval and swearing in ceremonies are happening next week. MLAs will then vote on the package and we hoped to do that in December and have the dollars rolling out before Christmas. So it will certainly be by early in the New Year, if not before.

This interview aired on CBC's On The Island on Nov. 17 and has been edited for clarity and structure. To hear the complete interview, tap the audio link below:

With files from On The Island