VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — The federal government could be announcing further action to ease some COVID-19 border restrictions, but officials in B.C. say the province still has some work to do before British Columbians pack their bags.
Premier John Horgan says he is having regular discussions with the federal government about easing border restrictions. And he says he is optimistic and believes B.C. is on the right track.
“I know the case counts are very favourable. Hospitalizations are down, immunizations are up. These are all at the objectives that we laid out in our restart plan; we’ll have more to say next week about going to the next stage,” he says.
“But it’s important to know that not every jurisdiction across the country has the same view on this matter. Some want to open up tomorrow. Others don’t want to open up until September. I think somewhere between those two poles is where we’ll land,” he adds.
He has hinted that the land border will likely reopen this summer, before September.
It has been reported that the federal government is set to make an announcement Friday on the easing of restrictions at Canada-U.S. crossings, though the federal health minister did not confirm anything on Thursday, when officials unveiled their plans to ease quarantine rules for fully vaccinated travellers into Canada by air.
Travel is currently restricted — both within B.C. and internationally — for most non-essential travel. The next phase in the province’s reopening plan is set to reallow travel within the province, but it still remains unclear when people will be able to hop across the border, as many did regularly before the pandemic hit.
Health Minister Adrian Dix notes B.C. remains in phase one of its restart plan. The earliest the province will move into step two is June 15, and he says “that will be based on the evidence.”
And while Dix says he expects to see borders opening soon, he stresses safety remains the priority.
“That starts with immunizing the maximum number of people in B.C. It continues with continuing to follow provincial health guidance and provincial health orders here in B.C. And our expectation for the federal government is that they have the rules in place as they decide to ease restrictions to ensure that our province stays safe.”
Dix adds, it’s important to consider there may be a reintroduction of cases as borders open up, so we need to prepare in advance.
Eased border restrictions can’t come soon enough for Point Roberts
Meanwhile, the prospect of relaxed restrictions has been a glimmer of hope for people living in Point Roberts who will finally be able to travel across the border and back given how heavily residents rely on cross-border travel.
The town is home to less than 1,000 residents – 85 per cent of which are vaccinated. The majority of real estate is owned by Canadians.
Point Roberts Chamber President Brian Calder is anxious to get the eye surgery he’s been waiting to get in Ladner, and says he’s running out of patience.
“At this stage now, 15 months later, I am going to go on the 22nd of June, and I’m going through and I’m showing my card that says I was vaccinated in March,” he says.
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“I’m going to go to my doctor in Ladner, and I don’t care what the results are. They can come and get me because I’m going in. It’s a two and a half hour operation. I’m coming back and let’s see what happens,” Calder adds.
Soon, people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — and who are permitted to enter the country — will be allowed to fly into Canada and forego the mandatory hotel quarantine process as long as they have a negative PCR test and a “suitable quarantine plan to wait for their day-one test results.”
However, what the plan will be for those crossing by land remains a question. Some of the details could be clarified on Friday.
PCR tests for those entering Canada at the Point Roberts Crossing could be an issue since they aren’t available there.
Business owners ready to get back to work
Beth Potter who President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada is also pleased to see the first steps taken towards opening the borders again.
“We do need a plan to see all visitors being able to go back and forth across the border. And we hope to hear more on that from the government in the coming days.”
Potter says they are hopeful that come the summer, people might be able to come and go as they did before the pandemic as more Canadians are immunized and case counts trickle down.
“We’re seeing government being more receptive to getting the border open and seeing people travelling back and forth across the border again,” she says.
“As an industry that’s been so incredibly hard hit, we need to see that. We need to do we need to experience some kind of a summer this year.”
She adds he and other business owners are excited to get back to work, “And we want to get our employees back to work as well.”