New Temporary Travel Restrictions in British Columbia

By Katie Nadworny May 17, 2021
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Vancouver skyline

​When British Columbia announced temporary travel restrictions on April 23, Anita Alfke was prepared. She lives on Vancouver Island, one of the three health regions designated by the provincial government, and could no longer leave the island. However, months of pandemic life had prepared her for this particular phase. She works in sales, which has always been remote, and as an actor, which usually involves frequent travel to Vancouver. 

Now, she is able to do most of her acting work remotely, collaborating with studios in Los Angeles, New York City and London, which saves time that would be spent commuting. "Traveling to Vancouver takes a long time. And having that extra time now, in a comfortable home environment, I actually find much better for my mental health just because I'm not always on the road," Alfke said.

The restrictions in British Columbia limit nonessential travel between three consolidation health regions: the Fraser-Vancouver Coastal Health Authority Region (a combination of the Fraser Health Authority and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority), the Northern-Interior Health Authority Region (combining the Northern Health Authority, the Interior Health Authority, and the areas of Bella Coola Valley, Central Coast and Hope), and the Vancouver Island Health Authority Region. Exemptions are in place for travel that is considered essential, including travel for work.

Penalties and Exemptions

"If you are found to have been traveling for nonessential reasons, you could be fined up to C$575"—approximately US$476—said Michael Howcroft, an attorney with Blake, Cassels & Graydon in Vancouver. But the provincial authorities "have stated that their goal is to really be preventative and informative, so in many cases you may simply be told to turn around and go home."

There are no specific protocols in place to receive exemptions from the travel restrictions. "What I'm advising my clients is, if you do have an employee who is traveling from one region to another, if they're traveling for legitimate business purposes, first of all, consider if it is necessary. Because if it is not, good public health would suggest you shouldn't be doing it right now," Howcroft said. But if travel is necessary for the business, he recommends employers provide a letter to the employee indicating the destination and the reason for the trip. Such a letter is not required but will make work travel easier.

Much of the enforcement is built around roadblock checkpoints between health regions and cooperation with the local government. Some hotels have made arrangements to check whether travelers from outside the health region have an essential reason to travel and will not agree to make the booking unless a clear reason is provided.

However, Krista Bax, CEO of go2HR in Vancouver, British Columbia's (BC's) tourism and hospitality human resource and health and safety association, noted that not all hotels can do this. "Our tourism and hospitality industry, our accommodation industry, is not there to police and comply and to evaluate if somebody's trip is essential or nonessential," Bax said. "They play a role in making sure that whoever is booking something is aware of the current advisories, and where BC is at and what they're trying to do."

A Balance Between Health and the Economy

The tourism sector is trying to strengthen this summer while complying with the current restrictions. More communities are realizing that a shutdown now might be what's necessary to salvage the summer season. For example, the ski hills in Whistler closed in March after an outbreak of the South African variant of COVID-19 and chose not to reopen for the end of the winter season.

"They are planning on reopening for the summer," Bax said. In the meantime, "the community has asked, please stay away."

By letting employees continue to travel for work during these restrictions, British Columbia is attempting to find a way to allow businesses to continue to operate while controlling the spread of COVID-19. "They're trying to balance maintaining reasonable business activity, while at the same time cutting down on the amount of social interactions," Howcroft said.

With these restrictions and an increase in the percentage of the population who will be vaccinated, there's hope the restrictions may be lifted at the end of May, Howcroft said.

Katie Nadworny is a freelance writer in Istanbul. 

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