Border towns, tourist destinations brace for B.C. travel restrictions

Communities on both sides of the Alberta-British Columbia border are bracing for travel restrictions that the B.C. government says will be coming Friday.

At a news conference Monday, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced that travel restrictions are in the works that are expected to be in place through the Victoria Day weekend in May.

Horgan said his government has been working with the tourism industry to reject bookings from people travelling outside their local areas, and that orders are in the works to stop people from leaving their health authority’s region for non-essential reasons.

He said there will be random audits of travellers, and that BC Ferries will stop taking recreational vehicle bookings.

There’s a plan to post signs along the Alberta-B.C. border, reminding travellers that they should only be entering B.C. for essential reasons, an addition that will be a bit strange to see, said Grande Prairie Coun. Dylan Bressey.

“There are a lot of unknowns, but it definitely is hard when you are in one of these border areas that really does seem like a region unto its own, instead of two different provinces,” he said Monday.

He said he hopes the restrictions make allowance for people who cross the border to work, for outdoor recreation, and for B.C. residents who travel to Grande Prairie to shop for essentials because it’s the largest centre in the region.

Across the border in Dawson Creek, B.C., Mayor Dale Bumstead echoed the concern for balancing the economic impact against the threat of COVID-19. Bumstead said that as of Monday, his community in northern B.C. had the highest rate of COVID-19 per 100,000.

He said essential workers in the energy, agriculture, and forestry sectors moving between the two provinces keep the border busy, but that he understands the need to put a stop to non-essential travel through the corridor.

“We need to find a way to flatten this curve of this virus impacting our community,” he said.

Tough on tourist locales

Further south, communities popular with Albertans for both visits and vacation homes are preparing to weather another hit to their economies.

Fernie, B.C. Mayor Ange Qualizza said she’ll wait to hear the details Friday, but said whatever the health restrictions are she’ll advise people to follow them. 

For Albertans who have vacation homes in her community, she’s said she’s hopeful the restrictions are short-lived.

“To have those folks either locked out or feeling unwelcome — that’s not what we want. But what we do want is for all of us to stay safe, not be bringing variants back and forth to each other and respect the travel orders in both of our provinces,” she said. 

Tourism Kelowna said in a statement Monday it has halted marketing efforts outside the central Okanagan region back in November, and will continue to focus on encouraging local residents to stay local and support businesses at home.

Officials advise against travel

As the third wave has hit some regions hard in recent weeks, health officials have warned against recreational travel between provinces.

In a statement Monday, Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said Alberta hadn’t yet received any details about the restrictions from B.C.

“We continue to strongly recommend against any non-essential travel outside of the province,” he said.

Earlier this month while speaking to concerns about variant spread, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam raised avoiding recreational travel and visits to other provinces as a key way to stop transmission.

“Do not travel for recreational purposes outside your own locality. Right now, that’s really important,” Tam said.

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