British Columbia

Prince Rupert, Whistler won't get accelerated reopening despite huge drop in COVID cases

The Prince Rupert Chamber of Commerce wants the province to allow the city to welcome non-local tourists before mid-June as planned, given that nearly 80 per cent of adult residents have received at least one dose of COVID vaccine.

Prince Rupert has no new cases following community-wide vaccinations

Waterfront of Prince Rupert, B.C., where nearly 80 per cent of adult residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. (A. Davey/Flickr)

The B.C. government has rejected calls from the local chamber of commerce to reopen Prince Rupert sooner than the rest of the province, despite the North Coast city recording no new cases of COVID-19 last week.

Nearly 80 per cent of adults in Prince Rupert have received one dose of vaccine, after the province set up a large-scale mass vaccination clinic in mid-March in response to high rates of COVID-19 transmission. A three-week community-wide clinic for residents to receive their second dose is scheduled to begin June 14.

Earlier this week, health officials announced the province's plan to gradually lift restrictions on daily life, business and travel as the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to subside. 

But those restrictions will be rolled out based on provincial transmission and vaccination rates, not local ones, B.C.'s health minister says.

Prince Rupert Chamber of Commerce president Michael Gurney has asked the B.C. government to consider lifting local restrictions on an accelerated basis because, according to data from B.C. Centre for Disease Control, 78 per cent of adult residents in his city have received one dose of vaccine. 

"[Prince Rupert's high vaccination rate] should be considered with … exceptional circumstances in the case of loosening restrictions," Gurney said Wednesday to Carolina de Ryk, the host of CBC's Daybreak North.

According to the most recent BCCDC data, there were zero confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city last week.

Gurney is also asking the province to reopen Whistler, where adult residents of the town and surrounding area are 76 per cent vaccinated, according to provincial data. The BCCDC recorded just five cases in the Whistler region last week, down from 410 cases two months ago.

But Health Minister Adrian Dix says there will be no exceptions to the reopening timeline for travel within the province.

Dix said Prince Rupert should remain closed to non-essential travellers coming from outside the region, despite its high vaccination rate.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says Prince Rupert and other cities with high COVID vaccination rates should remain closed to non-essential travellers until mid-June as planned. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

"I think [the] provincewide approach [to travel restrictions] is an important one," Dix said Wednesday on Daybreak North. "What we need to do in Prince Rupert and everywhere else is [to] continue to increase our first doses.

"Our strong advice continues to be to limit your travel to your own health region, and that gives people a lot of flexibility in the north," the minister added.

The travel zone encompassing Prince Rupert includes the Interior as well as northern B.C.

Meanwhile, Gurney says if Prince Rupert were allowed to welcome non-local tourists sooner, it would send a strong message to the rest of the province that COVID vaccination works.

"If people respond enthusiastically to the opportunity to be protected [by the vaccines] … it will expedite the return to normal life and the transaction of profitable business," he said.

Tap the link below to hear Michael Gurney's interview on Daybreak North:

Tap the link below to hear Health Minister Adrian Dix's interview on Daybreak North:


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Winston Szeto

Digital journalist

Winston Szeto is a journalist with CBC News based in Kelowna, B.C. in the unceded territories of the Syilx. He writes stories about new immigrants and LGBTQ communities. He has contributed to CBC investigative journalism programs Marketplace and The Fifth Estate. Winston speaks Cantonese and Mandarin fluently and has a working knowledge of German and Japanese. He came to Canada in 2018 from Hong Kong, and is proud to be Canadian. Send him tips at winston.szeto@cbc.ca.

With files from Daybreak North

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