What you need to know about B.C.’s new travel restrictions

What you need to know about B.C.'s new travel restrictions-Milenio Stadium-Canada
A road sign in Toronto in January informs drivers to travel only for essential reasons. Ontario remains in a state of emergency that includes orders to stay at home except for essential trips. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

B.C. Premier John Horgan announced new travel restrictions on Monday to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Trudeau says he supports restricting interprovincial travel when necessary to stem spread of COVID-19

Horgan said the new restrictions were put in place to ensure that British Columbians stay within their own local areas and reduce non-essential travel.

A formal order is expected to come at the end of this week, and the restrictions will be in place until the end of the May long weekend.

It’s a significant change from Horgan’s tone a few months ago, when he cited — falsely — that Manitoba had only “four roads” in and out of the province, compared with B.C.’s dozens of roads and major airports, as the reason why the West Coast would not follow the Prairie province’s stricter travel rules.

“We never said we couldn’t do it, we said it would be logistically challenging — and it is and remains so,” he said on Monday.

What are the new restrictions?

B.C. residents will not be able to book accommodations or a camping site outside of their local health authority. This is currently being done through a voluntary basis in the tourism sector, but Horgan said he is willing to introduce a government order if necessary.

Operators will cancel any bookings that have already been made, he said.

BC Parks will ensure that anyone who has booked a provincial camping site outside of their health authority will receive a refund.

BC Ferries-Milenio Stadium-Canada
In addition to no longer accepting bookings for recreational vehicles — such as campers and trailers — at the end of this week, BC Ferries will be contacting passengers who have already made reservations to ensure they are essential travellers. (Robb Douglas/CBC)

BC Ferries will stop accepting bookings for recreational vehicles such as campers and trailers at the end of this week. The ferry service will also contact passengers who have already made reservations to ensure they are essential travellers. It will not be implementing any extra sailings this year for the May long weekend.

In addition, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth will be issuing orders on Friday under the Emergency Program Act to restrict a person’s ability to leave their health-care authority. The order will be enforced through a roadside checkpoint program.

“Do not plan a holiday until after the May long weekend,” Horgan said.

When do they take effect and how long do they last?

The formal order for the restrictions will be put in place later this week, and they are in effect until Monday, May 24, the end of the May long weekend.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said May 24 was chosen because it’s when the province expects to have 60 per cent of its adult population protected with the COVID-19 vaccine.

Can I travel within my health authority?

It is technically permissible to travel within local health authorities — some of which cover large geographic regions or, in the case of Island Health, all of Vancouver Island — but Horgan urged residents to stay close to home for the next five weeks.

“We’re asking people to use their common sense,” the premier said.

Passengers-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Passengers are shown at the Vancouver International Airport in March 2020. Travellers will not be able to book accommodations outside of their local health authority for the next five weeks until May 24, the end of the long weekend. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

What if I live on the border of a health authority?

Horgan said he understands there is a lot of movement between certain health authorities, such as in the Lower Mainland between Vancouver in Vancouver Coastal Health and neighbouring municipalities such as Burnaby and Surrey in the Fraser Health authority, or around Quesnel, which borders the Interior and Northern Health authorities.

“We get that. We want to make sure that public safety health representatives are not going to be heavy-handed with this,” he said.

“This is for those who are recklessly [flouting] the rules. It’s not for regular folks who are going about their business.”

What is a roadside checkpoint? What happens if I’m found travelling outside my health authority?

The roadside checkpoints will apply to all travellers passing through, and Horgan likened it to the impaired driving checkpoints conducted during the Christmas season.

“There will be a fine if you are travelling outside of your area without a legitimate reason,” Horgan said, although he did not provide details on how much the fine would be.

BC RCMP officer-Milenio Stadium-Canada
A B.C. RCMP traffic services officer demonstrates new COVID-19 safety protocols during the 2020 holiday campaign to deter impaired driving. (CBC)

Horgan said the authority for the checkpoints will come from the Emergency Program Act. The government will be consulting with the BIPOC community to make sure the restrictions do not give anyone fear that there will be additional repercussions, he said, stressing it would not be like the orders introduced in Ontario on Friday and later rolled back.

“We’re not going to follow other provincial leads and bring forward proposals that can’t be enforced,” Horgan said. “It is not our objective to go into some sort of state where we are watching and monitoring everybody’s activity.”

How do I prove that I am an essential traveller?

Horgan did not provide an answer on Monday, but he said details would be provided in Farnworth’s order on Friday.

What about out-of-province travellers?

The provincial government says it will be erecting new border signs along the B.C.-Alberta border, reminding people to stay within their own province if travel isn’t essential. At this point, there will be no checkpoints.

Horgan said he’s grateful that other provinces are encouraging their residents to stay home, adding that anyone trying to book accommodations from outside of B.C. over the next five weeks won’t be able to do so.

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