New travel rules threaten $575 fine, message remains "stay close to home"

Travel into B.C. from Alberta is being discouraged, but not illegal; Interior residents confined to massive region that excludes coast, Island

B.C. has introduced new travel rules intended to keep people close to home and curb the spread of COVID-19.

Effective today, non-essential travel into and out of certain health regions is prohibited, with travellers being subject to fines of $575, should they be found too far from home.

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Under the orders of Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Ministry of Public Safety has defined boundaries that cannot be crossed unless for an essential reason, such as for work, for school, medical reasons or to get to a primary residence.

The Interior Health and Northern Health regions have been combined as one, as have the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions. Vancouver Island Health will remain its own region.

For most Interior residents not travelling to the Lower Mainland, not much is likely to change.

BC Health authorities health regions
The Northern Health and Interior Health regions have been combined, as have the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions. Vancouver Island Health remains its own region.

A resident of Golden, near the Alberta border, for example, could theoretically travel more than 1,700 kilometres to Haida Gwaii, off of B.C.'s west coast, as both are in the combined Northern Health and Interior Health region.

The combined Northern/Interior region spans approximately 815,000 square kilometres. That amounts to 86 per cent of the entire province and it is the only region that borders other provinces or territories.

Travellers from Alberta, or any province east of B.C., therefore, would not be subject to a fine unless they continued their travel through to the Lower Mainland.

The measures, put in place under the Emergency Program Act, will remain until May 25.

Despite any enforcement measures in place to restrict travel within these regions, or into these regions from other provinces and territories, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said the Provincial Health Officer's message is still to stay close to home.

"I think most people do understand what their local area means," he said, in response to a question about where people can continue travelling.

The Ministry of Transport will also be involved in the effort, with signs going up along the B.C.-Alberta border, discouraging travel into the province but not prohibiting it.

Officials have shied away from using the term "road block" to describe how the travel restrictions will be enforced, but Farnworth described how police will conduct "periodic road checks" along travel corridors between health regions.

"It is not arbitrary or random, and it is not roadblocks. ... It is similar to what you see with the counterattack program at key points, strategic points, at the borders between health authorities," Farnworth said. "It would be Highway 1 just before it turns into the Canyon route, the Coquihalla or the Hope-Princeton. That's the approach that is considering being taken."

Farnworth could not provide further details on how the system will be put in place, promising more information next week.

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