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John Horgan says COVID-19 restrictions won’t be eased regionally

Easing COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions for B.C. regions with few infections is not on the table this summer, Premier John Horgan says.

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson wrote to Horgan June 2 urging him and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to consider if the province can “accelerate reopening parts of the province with low case counts when it is safe to do so” to help struggling tourism and other businesses.

Wilkinson specified the Okanagan, the Kootenays, Northern B.C. and Vancouver Island, the latter of which hasn’t seen a new positive test for the coronavirus in almost a month. Tourism in those regions has been severely affected, with some businesses saying they may not be around for B.C.’s third phase of pandemic restriction easing, which may be near the end of the summer tourism season.

“It’s clear, based on the evidence, that some regions and industries have been hit harder than others across the province,” Wilkinson said.

Asked about the suggestion June 3, Horgan said he has heard it for some weeks as B.C.’s case count has fallen to low levels, with most infection in the Lower Mainland. He said Henry has been clear on it.

“She’s been pretty categorical that the virus is everywhere in B.C.,” Horgan said. “There is not one part of the province that is less susceptible to outbreak if we don’t follow the directions that have been laid out by public health officials. And we have opened up our campsites. They’re going to see more and more travel throughout the summer as we get towards phase three. And we’ll see tourism, domestic tourism, I think, pick up and, in fact, break records as British Columbians stay home and enjoy the beauty and the splendours of every corner of the province.”

The earliest B.C. could see additional travel is later in June, only if the spread of infection doesn’t show signs of picking up from the reopening of pubs, restaurants, libraries and personal service businesses that are permitted in phase two, he said.

“If people want to book arrangements at their favourite place in B.C, you can certainly do that now, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get there,” Horgan said. “We have had success in B.C. because people have done this together, and although I absolutely understand that people are going to want to go and move around, and I absolutely understand that tourism operators want to see that happen, it wasn’t that long ago that leaders in tourism-dependent communities were saying stay home.”

RELATED: Restrictions could ease by end of June, Henry says

RELATED: COVID-19 tests ‘don’t replace physical distancing’

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