VANCOUVER — British Columbians eager to leave their health region shouldn’t pack their bags just yet.
Health officials announced Tuesday that the travel ban – requiring people to stay within one of three health regions, unless they need to leave for essential reasons – will remain in place for at least a couple more weeks.
The rules, which were first announced in late April, will be in place until at least June 15. Those caught travelling for non-essential reasons outside their zones can be fined $575.
Those zones include the combined Northern and Interior Health authorities and the combined Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions. The third region is Vancouver Island.
When that health order was first announced, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth encouraged people to stay even closer to home.
At the time, Farnworth gave the example that he wouldn’t travel to White Rock for recreation from his home in the Tri-Cities.
“If you live on the North Shore, that’s your local area. Stay in that area,” he said in April.
However, on Tuesday, health officials said British Columbians are permitted and even encouraged to travel recreationally within their zones. In other words, Vancouver residents eager to go camping in Squamish or the Fraser Valley won’t be discouraged from doing so.
“We invite people, starting today, to explore within those zones,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday.
“Go camping within the area that you live. But we want to protect those areas that have less transmission and make sure that we’re not spreading the virus that is still circulating right now.”
For those hoping to make summer travel plans in other parts of B.C., health officials said those changes are coming soon too.
As early as June 15, if case counts continue to decrease, recreational travel will be permitted in the province. Individuals will still need to check in with the communities they want to visit, however.
“We want people to continue to use their common sense, not just in terms of where you travel and how you act, but also being guided by what your impact could be on not just yourself and your family but others in the community,” Premier John Horgan said Tuesday.
Then, as early as July 1, recreational travel throughout Canada won’t be discouraged.
Whistler’s mayor Jack Crompton called the restart plan “good news.”
“As the mayor of Whistler, I never thought I would ask people to not visit our community,” he said. “So to be able to put out the welcome mat again feels really, really good.”
The resort temporarily closed following the circuit-breaker health restrictions introduced towards the end of March, bringing an early end to the ski season. But now, they’re able to reopen.
“Covid has been devastating to our community, to the local economy, and so we miss those people being here…they’re also a huge part of who we are as Whistlerites,” he said. “Golf courses are open, and hiking and biking and dining are all back now, which is nice, and I think we feel ready.”
Walt Judas, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. said the restart plan is “the most positive news we’ve heard on behalf of the industry in a long, long time.”
“It gives us predictability that businesses need to allow them to plan for the summer and the rest of the year,” he said.
This includes things like how much supplies to purchase, and how many staff to hire.
“One of the biggest challenges that we have is finding labour, enough people to work in our sector again to allow operators to open at full capacity, but we’ll need to do that in fairly short order.”
Judas said that while the industry would welcome additional government funding support, they also hope to see official messaging letting people know travel is safe.
“Many people have lost confidence in the travel sector,” he said. “We really need that support going forward. A strong communications plan that meets the needs of our sector but also clearly communicates to residents and communities that travel is safe is paramount to our success going forward.”
Judas said they are also waiting on word from the federal government regarding a road map for welcoming back tourists from outside of the country.
“Could we look at this idea of a travel passport, or a travel health card of some kind, to allow international visitors who have been fully vaccinated from certain countries to visit our country and our province sooner than later,” he said.
“International visitors tend to spend three or five times more than domestic travellers, so it’s imperative that we start to see the international visitors arriving on our shores at some point soon.”