SFU researcher says new restrictions may seem contradictory to British Columbians

COVID-19 regulations aim to restrict travel around the province

PHOTO: Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash

Written by: Karissa Ketter, News Writer 

On April 23, 2021 the BC provincial government released updated travel restrictions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These restrictions require all non-essential travel between health regions to be postponed until after May 25 when the restrictions are lifted. The fine for not following restrictions is up to $575.  

Essential travel is permitted. This includes travelling to work, accessing health care and child services, and attending post-secondary classes, among others. It also includes fleeing the risk of violence or abuse, visiting long-term care centres, or attending funerals. Travel for recreational purposes is prohibited. 

For the purpose of these restrictions, the health regions are now combined into three larger regions: Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal, Northern Health and Interior Health, and Vancouver Island Health. 

Travel between these regions is prohibited but police will not be engaging in random vehicle or individual checks. Road checks will be in high-traffic sectors such as Highway 1 that lead into the Interior. Travellers at BC Ferries and campers at BC Parks will be questioned. 

Instead, there will be formal travel road checks between regions where police can ask for a driver’s name, address, license, identity-verifying documents, and reason for travel. Documents “regarding travel will not be required,” according to solicitor general Mike Farnworth in an interview with CTV News

The Peak spoke with SFU research fellow Dr. Julianne Piper, who works with the Pandemics & Borders team, about the implications of the restrictions. 

“Up until now [ . . . ] the British Columbian government has been reluctant to impose travel measures beyond advisories or appeals to people to do the right thing,” Piper said. She noted clear limitations to the new restrictions such as the government not including “management for interprovincial travel.”

Piper explained why this mixed response from the BC provincial government may be confusing. “From a public trust perspective [ . . . ] a lot of British Columbians are going to be questioning why they’re being asked to stay put when we’re still seeing out-of-province or international travellers coming into the province.”

A statement from premier John Horgan read, “The review of our legal options made it clear we can’t prevent people from travelling to British Columbia,” for “[m]uch of current interprovincial travel is work related and therefore cannot be restricted.”

“There’s always going to be a tradeoff, but at this point we’re in a really critical stage in the race between the vaccines and variants,” said Piper.

Piper said compliance from British Columbians will be crucial during this time. For example, “the co-operation of the tourism industry is also really valuable in terms of not accepting non-local bookings [which is a] really important step to encouraging people to stay close to home and to stay local.” 

In his statement, Horgan added, “If we see transmission increase due to interprovincial travel, we will impose stronger restrictions on non-essential travellers.”

Piper’s research involves looking at various travel restrictions around the globe and collaborating with research teams in Hong Kong and the USA. “Ideally, we would see travel measures that are implemented universally at international borders.” 

Through this research, the team has seen “that travel is really closely implicated” with the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. This is because, “as people move about, they move the virus with them.” 

They found the most effective international responses are those that include restricting movement and reducing non-essential travel. 

Piper said while this initially creates a cost — since individuals are not able to travel outside of their communities — jurisdictions such as New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, and South Korea have “been able to create a sort of, COVID-free zone, so they’ve been able to resume daily activities.”