A petition calling on the B.C. government to lock down the province’s borders amid COVID-19 is gaining momentum online.
Vancouver Island resident Christian Stapff is behind the petition urging Premier John Horgan to shut the province’s borders to non-essential travel for one month.
Stapff, a school teacher with the Vancouver Island West school district, said he’s worried about new variants of COVID-19, and credits Western Australia’s restrictions for helping to curb the spread of the virus there.
Dr. Kelley Lee, Canada Research Chair professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University, studies the role of travel bans and viruses and agrees with tightening travel restrictions as outlined in the petition.
She said different strains of COVID-19 are circulating and there is “definitely a connection” between travel and the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“The more that we can restrict people coming in from outside (the better),” she said.
“And if they do need to because essential travel is still necessary, that we quarantine people who come into the province from other parts of the country. We are not doing that at the moment.”
Stapff said British Columbia lags behind other jurisdictions in regulating travel during the pandemic.
“If you travelled into Perth International Airport, they would take you from the plane to a hotel,” said Stapff.
“They weren’t just asking you to self-isolate, they would actually put you in a hotel room and say you stay there for two weeks, they would obviously feed you for that two weeks.”
Western Australia has had 33 infections over the last month in a population of around 2.5 million, he said, adding he believes the problem is not the virus but people’s behaviours.
On Jan. 20, 2021 the Department of Health in Western Australia reported no new cases of COVID-19 that day. The state’s total remains at 888.
Timing is everything when it comes to the effectiveness of travel restrictions, said Lee, and it may be too late for B.C. to implement the Western Australia model.
Lee, does believe that B.C. needs to tighten up the province’s quarantine requirements and travel restrictions.
“We’ve been really reliant on voluntary compliance. We haven’t been very strong about requiring people to stay in hotels, for example, and kept an eye on,” she said.
“That’s been very much the case in many countries that have been successful. I can understand that petition and why they are calling for that especially with the new variants circulating.”
Lee, said there’s an inconsistency and risk when people from outside B.C. are allowed to travel to the province when locals are being urged to stay within their own health region.
“There’s a risk that those people who come in from whatever part of the country might be carrying COVID and might be carrying the new variants. They are possibly seeding potential outbreaks.”
Travel restrictions, however, aren’t without controversy and limitations.
Section 6 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, guarantees the rights of Canadians to “move to and take up residence in any province.”
The Tourism Association of BC is also pushing back on the idea of a potential travel ban.
The association says the proposal to ban non essential travel between provinces could prove devastating to a sector that’s already on life support.
Canada’s Atlantic provinces have applied non-essential travel restrictions such as mandatory 14-day self-isolation period and pre-travel approval for those entering the provinces.
Last week, Horgan said that the province is seeking legal advice on the measure, but added that the restricting travel in the Maritime provinces would be easier than in B.C. due to its size and population.
Asked about the petition, a spokesperson for the premier’s office said they were “reviewing information and will have more to say later this week.”
Dr. Ron Clark, chief of staff at Elk Valley Hospital in Fernie, said more than “20 per cent of the tests” they are doing are coming back positive for COVID-19.
Clark calls the situation worrisome and believes Fernie is close to reaching levels seen in Big White and Revelstoke, which have both experienced community clusters.
Fernie locals say they frequently see license plates from Alberta, Quebec and across the country but there is no official link yet between that and the surge in COVID-19 cases.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government is closely following the latest science on more transmissible strains, such as those from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil.
Trudeau said officials could impose new travel restrictions without advance notice at any time.
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