While they may share the same health region as the Lower Mainland as per provincial guidelines, the communities in BC’s Sea to Sky region are requesting that people from out of town still refrain from visiting right now.
In a joint statement, officials with Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District said they are discouraging non-essential visits, in accordance with BC’s new travel restrictions.
“We urge Lower Mainland and North Shore residents to not travel to the Sea to Sky region for recreation as we work our way back from being a COVID-19 hotspot, and to prevent transmission between our communities,” said Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott. “We ask you to help us get through this last push by making a selfless choice and staying close to home.”
Elliott’s sentiments were echoed by Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton. “The Sea to Sky region is united asking that people not visit until after the May long weekend,” he said. “We look forward to being able to welcome you back this summer.”
Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman said the request is made “with great reluctance,” but is looking forward “to being able to show off and share with guests our extraordinary valley again very soon.”
The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District “is joining our municipalities in the region, and reminding people that now is not the time to travel,” said Squamish-Lillooet Regional District Board Chair Jen Ford. “If we are to be successful in slowing the spread of COVID-19, we must all take a step back, and exercise extreme caution.”
The request from the communities comes after the provincial government detailed BC’s new orders restricting non-essential travel on Friday morning, which are now in effect across the province.
The details were shared by Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, and include measures for preventing travel across health regions, travelling on ferries, bookings, camping reservations, as well as occasional road checks and border signage.
“While I’m disappointed additional measures are necessary, I am taking further action to carry us through the current spike in COVID-19 cases until more of the population can be vaccinated in the coming weeks,” Farnworth said.
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The order is in effect from now through May 25 (after the May long weekend). It applies to everyone in the province, including non-essential travellers from outside the province.
The minister confirmed that for the purposes of this order, Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health would be considered one region, adding that Northern Health and Interior Health will be considered one region as well. As such, the order doesn’t apply to travel within these defined regions.
“The order is intended to stop people from going from Vancouver to Tofino or Kamloops to Whistler, for example,” said Farnworth. “It will not stop people from travelling long distances within their health region, for example, like Abbotsford to Whistler.”
That being said, “the advice from [Provincial Health Officer] Dr. Henry to stay local remains in place everywhere in BC,” said Farnworth. “Everyone should stay close to home.”
To help ensure this travel restriction is effective, Farnworth said the province is also working with:
- The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure on highway signage and increasing signage along the border with Alberta;
- BC Ferries to restrict non-essential vehicle passage, deter non-essential bookings and limit sailings;
- Tourism and accommodation industry association leaders to strongly encourage all operators/businesses to support the order by declining new bookings from outside their regional zones and cancelling existing bookings from outside their regional zones;
- BC Parks to inform the public about restrictions and refund bookings where necessary;
- Police departments on establishing enforcement measures in the coming days.
Farnworth said he recognizes that there are circumstances where travel is essential and permissible, and said the order reflects this with a list of exemptions.
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Farnworth said that in the coming days, the province will work with police to establish periodic road checks at key travel corridors during times associated with leisure travel to remind travellers of the order.
“Police will not engage in random checks, and enforcement measures will be informed by discussions with stakeholders on limiting the impacts to racialized communities,” he said.
The road checks will be set up near ferry terminals and on highway corridors that connect different regions of the province, and there will be signs at the Alberta border discouraging people from non-essential travel.
“I want to to stress that these are not arbitrary, random, and are not roadblocks,” he said. “What it is, is periodic road checks, similar to what you see with the Counter-Attack program, at key strategic points on the borders between health authorities.”
Asked for more details on how these road checks would specifically work, Farnworth said “detailed information” will be coming out next week.
“I want to make sure this is done right, and we address the concerns people have, ” he said, when asked about the delay. “We are working with police very closely to ensure that what comes out is what’s right.”