British Columbia

SFU health expert, citing COVID variants, urges B.C. to act quickly to restrict inter-provincial travel

Kelley Lee, the director of global health studies at Simon Fraser University, says no jurisdiction can completely shut its borders to essential travellers, but B.C. should consider restrictions, along with other measures, such as screening and testing.

There's a short time-window to prevent coronavirus variants coming into the province, says Kelley Lee

B.C. should move quickly to restrict inter-provincial travel, if it is to effectively curb the spread of COVID-19 variants, according to the director of global health studies at Simon Fraser University. (Sophia Harris/CBC)

The B.C. government should tighten restrictions on travel from other Canadian provinces to curb the spread of COVID-19, a global health expert said Tuesday.

The province announced last Thursday it was investigating the legality of such a move. 

Kelley Lee, the director of global health studies at Simon Fraser University, says she is working with researchers from across Canada, the United States and Hong Kong to document travel restrictions adopted by governments around the world.

The researchers use genomic sequencing to see how the virus is spread.

Lee says travel restrictions, when they're quickly implemented, are effective at containing highly infectious diseases, like COVID-19.

Kelley Lee, a professor of public health at Simon Fraser University, says the province needs to limit travel as soon as possible, given the recent identification of coronavirus variants in B.C. (Simon Fraser University)

"It's really important when an outbreak like COVID-19 occurs that you act early," she told Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South. "The countries that did that very quickly were more effective."

Over the past several weeks, health officials have identified coronavirus variants in B.C. that were first seen in the United Kingdom and South Africa

Lee says this is why immediate action is required.

"There's a short time window really to prevent more of those imported cases from coming into the province," she said. "We really cannot afford to have those new strains of the virus establishing themselves in the community."

On Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she is recommending against non-essential travel, but there is no public health order prohibiting it.

Lee says while no jurisdiction can completely shut its borders to essential travellers, it's important to have systems in place to monitor them. 

"What we can do is [to] make sure that those travellers are travelling in a way that is safe for the rest of the population, that there may be an argument to vaccinate them," she said.

Last year, In the early stages of the pandemic, a number of provinces set up checkpoints on their boundaries to restrict traffic.

Tap the link below to hear Kelley Lee's interview on Daybreak South:

Prof. Kelley Lee says BC has a window of about a week to close provincial borders to prevent the spread of new variants of COVID-19, and should vaccinate everyone who arrives in BC. She spoke with the CBC's Chris Walker. 8:59

With files from Daybreak South and Rhianna Schmunk

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