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B.C. hopes to lift travel restrictions within Canada, move into Phase 3 next week

Last Updated Jun 18, 2020 at 7:07 am PDT

FILE - B.C. Premier John Horgan provides the latest update on the COVID-19 response in the province during a press conference from the rose garden at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Premier hopes new data will allow B.C. to lift internal travel restrictions

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is to release the latest modelling data on COVID-19 next week

The province is also seeking public feedback on how to help the economy recover

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — B.C. hopes to lift travel restrictions involving provincial borders within Canada while moving fully into Phase 3 of its pandemic recover plan next week, Premier John Horgan said Wednesday.

But that won’t happen before new modelling numbers are released, he added.

In the meantime, the province is seeking public feedback, through a new online survey and virtual town hall meetings, on how to help the economy recover, with $1.5 billion still set aside for stimulus.

“There are going to be challenges in many sectors, particularly tourism,” Horgan said.

He added Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is to release the latest modelling data on COVID-19 next week.

“And I’m hopeful at that time we can move to full implementation of Phase 3 of the recovery plan, which would include more travel throughout British Columbia. But we want to see the results, we want to see the data next week before we make that announcement.”

RELATED: B.C. on track for Phase 3 by mid-June, shows new COVID-19 modelling

Horgan said he hopes the data will also allow B.C. to lift internal travel restrictions.

“And when I say internal, that means within Canada,” he added.

“Dr. Henry and I have been abundantly clear that Canadians have the right to travel within our country. We have never proposed putting up obstacles between Yukon Territory, Alberta and British Columbia.”

The provincial government has advised to avoid non-essential travel over the border with Alberta, while travel into the Yukon, via Highway 97 or Highway 37, is limited to essential travel only.

“Provincial highway operations continue to ensure safe and efficient travel. The transportation network is essential for maintaining the critical supply chain and ensuring people have access to essential food, medicine, goods and services,” says the province’s website.

“Now is not the time to travel for tourism or recreation. By temporarily avoiding non-essential travel, British Columbians can do their part to protect vulnerable people in communities from COVID-19.”

Horgan said he was pleased to see the closure of the international border extended to July 21.

“But when it comes to British Columbians and Canadians traveling this summer in B.C., I’m hopeful that we have record numbers, because we’re going to need that.”

Finance Minister Carole James said thousands of businesses in B.C. have had to close during the pandemic, putting that many people out of work.

The province has lost 314,000 jobs since February, she added.

“And now we’re asking you to look at those small businesses that shut down and say, how can I go in there and help those individuals, that family business, those workers get through the summer,” James said.

She said it’s too early to calculate the full economic consequences of COVID-19, but service sectors have been harder than others, accounting for 90 per cent of the job losses.

“A large percentage of those have been in accommodation, food services and retail trade,” James said. “The majority of job losses have happened to people who are making at near minimum wage.”

The youth unemployment rate is now 29 per cent, while James said women make up more than 60 per cent of the job losses in the hardest-hit sector.

James added the pandemic has exposed gaps in the economy and society, and the province is now seeking feedback until July 21 to help outline economic priorities:

Horgan was asked about financial support from the federal government to help BC Ferries, which is considering cutbacks on 11 different coastal routes.

“I have raised repeatedly, not in recent weeks, the issues of BC Ferries with the federal government. I have to confess there hasn’t been a particularly sympathetic ear because British Columbia is the only province that has a significant ferry compliment,” he said.

“We are in discussions with BC Ferries. We understand the drastic drop off in ridership they’ve had over the past three months, and we’re going to work with them to find answers to those challenges. But it can’t be done unilaterally by BC Ferries or the government of British Columbia. We need to have a collaborative approach.”

Regarding travel, Henry, in a statement Wednesday with Health Minister Adrian Dix, asked British Columbians to remember health and safety protocols when visiting other communities.

“As we expect increased travel within our province over the summer months, this is a reminder that the impact on small communities with limited health-care resources can be severe,” they say.

“As a result, we ask British Columbians to continue to take all measures to ensure you are safely increasing your social interactions, you are being respectful of communities you may be visiting when on the road and that you are always, without question, staying home and staying away from others if you are even mildly ill.”