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Two petitions insist B.C. has made wrong decision on interprovincial travel

WestJet passengers flying domestic out of Vancouver International Airport can now take part in a COVID-19 rapid test pilot project at YVR. (Courtesy Twitter/@yvrairport)

The author of one petition says drastic lockdowns in Australia should be replicated here

A second petition has been launched by health experts, demanding travel curtailments

CAMPBELL RIVER (NEWS1130) — While the tourism industry and border-town mayors are likely relieved the province has shot down the idea of barring visitors from out-of-province during this phase of the pandemic, thousands of British Columbians are no doubt disappointed.

Since a petition demanding the BC government close its border was launched last week, over 10,000 people have signed on.

The petition’s author, teacher Christian Stapff who lives in Campbell River, has admired how COVID was handled in parts of Australia. Melbourne, for instance, had a so-called ‘ring of steel’ around it for four months. It was one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, but it had results. The state of Victoria recorded 31 new cases of COVID in a two-week period, ending Jan. 20.

“We’ve been kind of limping along, hoping for this to go away. It won’t go away unless you take action to make it go away,” says Stapff, who has relatives in Australia.

“They are essentially COVID-free, because they did a hard lockdown.”

He fears the province didn’t make the right choice.

“I hope I’m wrong that the decision they have taken today will not lead to the kind of issues that Ontario faces right now,” he says. “Community spread didn’t happen without people coming into the community.”

He admits drastically reducing travel would adversely affect the hospitality industry, but he argues it would be effective.

“Until we have a vaccination, or until we reduce travel, it makes sense to have no travel across borders.”

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

Stapff’s position on a travel ban is actually getting support from health experts who’ve launched a separate petition, which calls for a drastic reduction in travel, increased testing, and more scrutiny of people who are required to quarantine.

“Travel and the coronavirus are intimately connected. We have a pandemic today because of worldwide travel,” says Kelley Lee, an SFU professor who is also Canada research chair in global health governance.

“I’m very concerned about the government’s decision, and so are researchers who are worried about this wait-and-see approach,” she adds, referring to Premier John Horgan’s statement on Thursday, saying further restrictions are on the table if transmission rates increase due to interprovincial travel.

“By the time you see that evidence, the new variants will likely be established in the community, and it will be too late, because we aren’t testing enough for the new variants,” she notes, pointing to the fact 90 domestic flights have had COVID exposures in the period between Jan. 7 and 17.

RELATED: B.C. mayors weigh in on possible interprovincial travel ban due to COVID-19

Revelstoke’s mayor was initially in favour of restricting interprovincial travel, citing two local restaurants that had to close because of virus cases related to visitors.

But Gary Sulz now concedes a ban would have been hard to enforce, and he realizes many Albertans have part-time homes on this side of the Rockies.

“You know the more I talk with my colleagues, who are mayors closer to the border, I understand where they are coming from, saying there is no proof that COVID is from visitors, and we have lots of people coming from other provinces who have second homes here,” he says.

“They’ve hunkered down, they’re keeping to themselves, keeping safe.”