Would-be holidaymakers are trying to find a balance between disappointment and understanding as the province’s new COVID-19 travel restrictions enter their first full day.
“I do really need this vacation,” Tamara Tanner told Global News from her home in Saskatchewan.
The 36-year-old carpenter had planned a special birthday trip to Vancouver Island with her 17-year-old daughter this week. The road trip had already been postponed twice due to changing work schedule, and the pair were looking forward to it as a bright spot in a stressful and gloomy year.
“We look forward to our trips, that’s our time that we could spend together, and we don’t really have any of the stresses of home life and work.
“It’s just frustrating having to reschedule everything because you never know if you’re going to get in again,” she said.
Tanner was lucky — she said her accommodations were able to re-book her in June, when she’s hopeful virus numbers will have dropped.
Despite the stress, she said she understands the need for the restrictions — noting that several friends her age had caught COVID and one had even ended up in the ICU.
Nanaimo’s Judy Davis had planned to come to Vancouver on Tuesday for the Imagine Van Gogh exhibit — an excursion planned months in advance, and with the event’s COVID-safe setup in mind.
Davis hasn’t seen her boyfriend, who lives in Vancouver, for four months — and was planning on visiting with him while she was in town.
She hasn’t been able to confirm whether her tickets will be refunded or rescheduled. While she’s disappointed, she told Global News after 40 years working in the healthcare field she also understands why the restrictions were necessary.
“I totally, totally get it,” she said.
“I’m disappointed that this isn’t happening. But compared to what other people are dealing with, I’m OK with it.”
Davis said she was less frustrated by missing out on the event than by the images she’s seen of people flouting COVID-19 restrictions, potentially prolonging their length.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth unveiled the non-essential travel ban on Friday, enacted under B.C.’s Emergency Program Act.
The plan divides B.C. into three zones — Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, and northern and interior B.C. — and bars non-essential travel between them. Holidaymakers are also to be turned away from the ferry system.
People who break the restrictions could face a $575 fine.
The restrictions came as B.C. continues to grapple with a third wave of COVID-19, driven by more infectious and virulent variants of the virus that have driven hospitalization numbers to new records.
“We’re hoping people with reservations, if they’re not in their local area, will move that reservation to a future date, and that way you’re still supporting the hotel or resort and at the same time you’re actually staying local,” B.C. Hotel Association president and CEO Ingrid Jarrett told Global News Morning.
Jarrett said her members would be adding a question to their COVID-19 screening list, asking guests whether their stay was for non-essential travel.
However, she said the industry was not police and would be focused on education rather than enforcement.
Jarrett said hoteliers are desperately hoping people follow the rules, fearing higher case counts could lead to an extension of restrictions beyond May, which would be devastating to the industry.
“The crisis that’s happening from a bankruptcy and insolvency perspective in the province of B.C. is very dire, and we really need right now to get this pandemic under control,” she said.
“The only way to do it is if all British Columbians adhere to this order.”
Many questions remain about the travel restrictions, chief among them how they’ll be enforced.
The province says there won’t be random stops, but that police will be tasked with setting up roadblocks, similar to those used to stop impaired drivers, at key highways between the travel zones.
Rob Farrer, B.C. director of the National Police Federation, which represents RCMP officers, said Saturday that police were still waiting on details from the province.
“We still don’t know what the legal framework will be and the legal authorities will be to do a road block, stop people and ask them where they are going and why — there are a lot of questions,” he said.
Farrer said the plan adds urgency to officers’ call for priority COVID-19 vaccination, given the new duties will put them face-to-face with thousands of additional people.
“We’ve had 2,400 instances in this province where members have been in close contact or exposed and had to isolate for 14 days,” he said.
For those like Davis and Tanner, who’d hoped to get away from home for a brief respite from COVID-19 drudgery, there was hope Saturday that the restrictions and ongoing vaccinations would have their intended effect, potentially opening the door to future travel.
“I really do hope that it does open up the borders again and then we should be able to travel freely again as you’d like, taking the proper precautions, of course,” Tanner said.
“It would have been nice just to be on the ocean — being in Saskatchewan, you don’t get to see beauties like that.”
The B.C. travel restrictions will remain in place until at least May 25.