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Coronavirus: B.C. premier raises ‘Alaska loophole’ with feds amid U.S. vehicle sightings

Dr. Bonnie Henry says small number of Americans using ‘Alaska loophole’ to travel in B.C.
Dr. Bonnie Henry says small number of Americans using 'Alaska loophole' to travel in B.C.

B.C. Premier John Horgan says he’s raised concerns with the federal government about vehicles with U.S. licence plates being spotted at Vancouver hotels and in more remote parts of the province.

Due to COVID-19, the U.S. border remains closed to all but essential travel until at least Jul. 21. A mandatory 14-day quarantine period for people entering Canada is in place until Aug. 31.

Read more: Are Americans using ‘Alaska exemption’ to skirt border shutdown? Feds looking into reports

“Essential travel” includes U.S. citizens transiting through the province to Alaska, raising concerns of a so-called “Alaska loophole” to the border closure.

“I represent the West Coast of Vancouver Island and I was speaking with the local chief of the Pacheedaht First Nation, and he tells me that there was a licence plate from Texas and a licence plate from California at the Port Renfrew general store,” Horgan said Thursday.

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“If you’re going to Alaska, you don’t go through Port Renfrew, so we’re concerned about this phenomenon, and we’re hearing it in communities right across the province.”

Read more: B.C. records 3 COVID-19 deaths, 24 new cases since Tuesday

Horgan said he wants to ensure Alaskans can get home safely, but not at the expense of B.C.’s effort to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 infection, given the current situation in the U.S.

He said he has discussed the matter with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who has agreed to raise it with the U.S. State Department.

On Wednesday, B.C.’s neighbour, Washington state, reported more than 700 new cases of the virus, while nationwide the U.S. saw more than 50,000 new cases.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has urged British Columbians not to assume the worst when spotting out-of-country licence plates on the roads.

“From talking with our border services agency and others that the majority of people with U.S. licence plates who are in B.C. are Canadians who have returned home over the past few months,” she said.

Henry said enforcing the border closure and subsequent quarantine measures remain the responsibility of the Canada Border Services Agency and RCMP.

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She said maintaining those restrictions remains crucial for B.C., as public health workers are able to detect, track and isolate cases of the virus while total case numbers remain low.

“We want to be able to manage every new case, and the detailed traceback we do of every single case in public health is really, really important,” said Henry.