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B.C. needs to stop non-essential travel to province within week, urges expert

FILE -- Signage on a B.C. highway urges people to avoid all non-essential travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ryan Lidemark, NEWS 1130 Photo)
Summary

Health expert points to new variants of COVID-19 in making argument for quick shutdown of non-essential travel to B.C.

'The earlier you act, the more effective travel restrictions can be,' says leading health expert with SFU

Only essential travel in B.C. should be allowed, and people should be required to quarantine, argues expert

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As B.C.’s premier looks for legal advice about keeping other Canadians from visiting this province, a leading health expert argues we need immediate action.

Prof. Kelley Lee, Canada research chair in global health governance at SFU, believes we need to shut down non-essential travel right away. She points to new variants of COVID-19 springing up around the world, most prominently causing major problems in the United Kingdom.

“If we had this new variant come in, this could be disastrous for our healthcare system. It could be disastrous for our economy. In order to prevent that scenario playing out, we need to tighten up travel,” Lee argued.

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She believes inter-provincial travel should be restricted to only essential purposes.

“People should not be coming here to go on a ski holiday at this point, for example, or going to hike or coming to the province for holidays. We aren’t even allowed to go outside of Fraser Health or Vancouver Coastal. So why is it that visitors are coming in and having holidays?”

Last week, Premier John Horgan said people are concerned about travel from one province to another and want it stopped.

“We have been trying our best to find a way to meet that objective of the public in a way that’s consistent with the Charter and other fundamental rights here in Canada, so legal advice is what we sought,” he said on Thursday.

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She points to the Maritimes as a shining example of what to do.

“[They have] done a very good job at keeping the numbers low, keeping everyone quarantined as soon as they come in across from Quebec and so on. Really, we need to do that. We need to make sure that everyone who comes in is quarantined and tested,” Lee said.

For his part, Horgan said Thursday that shutting down inter-provincial travel isn’t as simple in B.C. as closing borders, like in the Maritimes.

“The Maritimes’ population is not as large as that of British Columbia, so there’s only a few ways in and out and it’s easier to manage than it would be here in B.C.,” Horgan said.

However, Lee feels all but essential travel into B.C. should be shut down within a week.

“One of the things we found in our research is that the earlier you act, the more effective travel restrictions can be. Once you wait and the virus comes in, you’re sort of too late,” she said.

Lee believes essential travellers should be forced to quarantine if they arrive from another province.

“There’s some discussion about whether to create quarantine hotels like they have done in other countries, and requiring people to stay in those hotels. That might be an option,” she said. “But certainly, we have to have people who are coming in — regardless of whether it’s international or domestic — quarantining.”

The next step, she believes, is to “test like crazy.”

“We have to test people coming in and they will have to provide a test that shows that they are virus-free, but also they need to test again once they’re here. And any positive COVID test will have to be sequenced … to know which variant they have and then we go from there,” she proposed.

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She also feels truck drivers who are required to cross borders regularly should also be prioritized for receiving a vaccine.

Lee says some people may see a decrease in the number of daily cases and think it’s a good time to lift restrictions. She says those people aren’t thinking about the big picture.

“We’ve seen countries where they’ve taken their foot off the pedal too early — the numbers drop and then ‘Oh relax!’ Let’s see if we can go back to relative normality. And that’s usually a mistake.”

She says in countries where life looks relatively normal, it’s largely because they were very vigilant about people travelling around.

“[They were] really screening people very carefully and requiring them to quarantine and get tested … and they maintain those restrictions within the jurisdiction,” Lee said. “So, even if we get to the point where we have, let’s say, a few hundred [cases] … that doesn’t mean that we can just swing open our borders and say ‘Okay, come one, come all.’

In November, Horgan had said he wanted a unified message for people to avoid all non-essential travel during the pandemic. He had urged all against all travel in B.C. that isn’t necessary and wanted everyone across the country to receive the same messaging.

-With files from Liza Yuzda, Kathryn Tindale, and Lasia Kretzel