B.C. health officials double down on travel advisory this long weekend

Health officials are asking British Columbians to rethink their long weekend plans as the province marks a grim milestone in its fight against COVID-19.

There were 1,013 new cases announced by health officials Wednesday, a new record for infections identified in a single day.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said she's concerned that unnecessary travel over the Easter weekend may lead to another spike in cases.

“Right now, no one should be travelling for leisure or vacation outside of your local communities or regions,” said Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix in a release.

The majority of ferry reservations out of Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen terminal were sold out Thursday morning, although it’s unclear how many of those are being used by essential workers.

“The risk for all of us is too great, which means any of our usual travel and holiday weekend gatherings need to be put on hold this year,” wrote the health officials.

It’s a warning some travellers are taking to heart.

“We saw the restrictions and it was hard because, I mean, we’re here on a vacation, right? Then the restrictions came about and we said, 'I guess we have to head back home,'” said Wendy O’Neill who had travelled from Powell River to see family.

BC Ferries said it did add extra sailings, but not as many as it normally would Easter weekend.

“We have some additional sailings on our major route schedule to assist commercial traffic so essential goods can get to coastal communities. Essential commercial traffic is up significantly over our busiest years,” said Astrid Chang, a spokesperson for BC Ferries.

Chang says the service continues to follow health and safety guidelines and is reminding passengers to avoid non-essential travel.

But some travellers are going on trips anyway.

“We are going out to Tofino for the long weekend to visit some friends and some family,” said Karissa.

She said she knew about the travel advisory, but didn’t have any concerns.

“We’re being safe,” she said.

“We’re doing our best along the way and we’re fine with that,” added her partner, Tucker.

The pair says they plan to wear masks and practice physical distancing on the trip.

Henry had initially announced some easing of restrictions for religious gatherings in time for Easter, but had to backtrack on those plans after the rise in new infections.

Until April 19, all indoor religious gatherings and worship services are banned.

“I'm just sure that everyone's tired of having to wear masks and not being able to party or hang out and have dinners with family,” said Abe, who was heading to his cabin on Gambier Island.

He plans to stay isolated during his visit.

Wednesday also marked a second disturbing milestone with more than 100,000 total cases in B.C. recorded since the start of the pandemic.

Infectious disease expert Brian Conway says the surge in cases is likely because of COVID fatigue and the presence of variants.

“In the presence of a more contagious variant, each time you bend the rules, the risk of infection occurring is significantly greater so I think this is part of the explanation of what we're seeing,” said Conway.

He suggests we may need to rethink our vaccine rollout strategy to start targeting younger people earlier-- to cut down transmission rates.

“We have reached a level where we need to do something different beyond the measures that have been employed until now.”