New order limits non-essential travel in B.C.

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B.C. Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth issued a new order Friday under the Emergency Program Act to prohibit non-essential travel between three regional zones in the province. 

The order clarifies a more broadly announced restriction against travelling between health authorities that B.C. Premier John Horgan announced on Monday would be taking effect today.

The regional zones are:

1. Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley (Fraser Health and Coastal Health regions); 2. Vancouver Island (Island Health region); and 3. Northern/Interior (Interior Health and Northern Health regions).

Farnworth created the order on the advice of B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“While the order puts legal limits only on travel between regional zones, the Public Health Office’s guidance remains unchanged throughout B.C.: everyone should continue to stay within their local community — essential travel only,” a news release issued Friday states. 

The order will be in effect from April 23 through May 25 (after the May long weekend). It applies to everyone in the province, including non-essential travellers from outside the province.

BC Ferries said people travelling on multiple routes including Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay, Tsawwassen – Duke Point and Tsawwassen – Southern Gulf Islands will be asked if their travel is essential, and denied passage if it is not essential.

The company has also added a check box to the online reservation system to ensure customers read and acknowledge they are travelling for essential reasons when making a booking. BC Ferries says its has been regularly advising customers to avoid non-essential travel since November.

“The new variant strains are infecting more people and resulting in record levels of hospitalizations that place a growing strain on the front-line health workers who have been here for us throughout this pandemic. To help protect them and our communities, we must do more to discourage travel and begin to enforce restrictions on non-essential travel,” Farnworth said.

“While this new legal order targets those who are travelling across regional zones for recreational purposes, the advice from Dr. Henry to stay local remains in place everywhere in B.C. Do not go to Whistler or Tofino — even on a day trip. Everyone should stay close to home.”

The order will be enforced with police checkpoints that will be set up near ferry terminals  and major highways, similar to impaired driving checks. At the discretion of police, people not obeying the travel restrictions may be subject to a $575 fine. Farnworth said extra resources will be transferred to fund the policing program.

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