Director of UBC's school of public health admits to holiday travel during pandemic
Dr. Peter Berman apologizes, 'truly regrets' decision to travel during global health crisis
The director of the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health is apologizing for travelling over the holidays.
In a letter to the academic community, Dr. Peter Berman admits to travel, but does not say where he went. Berman is a leader in his field as a health economist with 40 years of experience in global health, according to his biography on the UBC website.
"In light of recent events and news stories this past week, I feel that I need to share with you that I travelled over the holiday break," Berman said in the letter.
"I recognize now that I should not have travelled, and that many of you have made sacrifices over these past several weeks that I too should have made. I truly regret this decision."
Though Berman did not say where he had travelled, on Friday a letter denouncing his behaviour was sent to UBC's president and the dean of the faculty of medicine on behalf of 19 faculty members, stating the director had been vacationing in Hawaii.
"A public health leader should know better. This decision to travel harms our School's ability to contribute leadership in calling for our communities to sustain daily sacrifices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for the public good. We are further dismayed by Professor Berman's response and that of UBC," the letter stated.
"It is important to be clear that travel for non-essential purposes and otherwise not following the guidance of our Provincial Health Officer is deeply irresponsible."
Berman is scheduled to teach an upcoming graduate-level course on government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
UBC 'has no jurisdiction over policing those private decisions'
In October, he was quoted in a Canadian Press story published in the Toronto Star about how public health experts were encouraging Canadians to accept sacrifices during the holiday season.
"We should probably turn our attention not so much to lamenting that we won't have the Christmas we're all used to, but rather thinking, 'How can we make the best of enjoying the one we're going to have together?'" Berman said.
Berman did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CBC News.
In his letter to the community, he reaffirmed his "sincere support" for the efforts of public health authorities.
"I would also like to assure you all that in my travel I have and am complying with all requirements for pandemic control and will continue to do so," he said.
Berman is among a growing list of people in positions of power, leadership or elected officials who have admitted to travelling over the holidays, despite provincial and federal recommendations to avoid all non-essential travel during the pandemic.
Most recently, Victoria city councillor Sharmarke Dubow admitted to travelling to East Africa over the holidays, a move Mayor Lisa Helps called "unacceptable."
Metchosin Coun. Kyara Kahakauwila apologized for travelling to Cabo San Lucas, and West Vancouver councillor Peter Lambur admitted to travelling to California.
In an emailed statement, Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC, said the institution is aware that some administrators, students, faculty and staff may have chosen to travel over the holidays.
"Individuals in our community are free to make personal decisions around how they choose to spend their personal time," Ramsey said.
"The university has no jurisdiction over policing those private decisions but expects everyone in its community to follow health guidelines."