Okanagan tourism agencies are responding as B.C.’s top doctor discouraged regional travel on Monday amid rising COVID-19 case counts and the spread of the highly transmissible variants of concern as B.C. is engulfed by the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
“To get to the end as quickly as possible, there are things that we need to do now,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
“That includes staying home, staying in your immediate neighbourhood as much as possible.”
“If you live in North Van, you should not be travelling to Langley or to Richmond. If you live in the Lower Mainland, you should not be travelling to the Island. If you live in Penticton, you should not be going to Sun Peaks or Oliver or Kelowna right now. We need to only do those types of travel if it’s essential, and nothing more.”
The directive to “stay local” is in line with what tourism agencies have been promoting in recent months, said Thom Tischik, the executive director of Travel Penticton.
“We have been promoting to locals since last October, we have not changed to regional travel promotion and will continue to promote to our residents of Penticton as we have been doing for the past few months,” Tischik said in an email.
“We will encourage them to enjoy the parks, trails etc. in a responsible manner practicing COVID safety recommendations.”
The Okanagan’s hospitality industry has been hit hard by a new round of COVID-19 restrictions as B.C. temporarily bans indoor dining until at least April 19.
“We are working on collaborative initiatives with the Penticton & Wine Country Chamber of Commerce and the City of Penticton to support our local food & beverage providers to help support those businesses,” Tischik said.
“We hope there will be a relaxing of restriction measures in the near future, however, we hold our residents and visitors health and safety as a top priority.”
The Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce is renewing its call on the province to target COVID-19 hot spots with tighter restrictions, instead of a blanket approach.
As of Monday, there were 900 active cases in Interior Health, compared to 5,081 in Fraser Health and 3,030 in Vancouver Coastal Health.
“The board of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce understands the necessity of reducing the transmission of Covid 19 and we all have a part to prevent the spread. The Chamber always encourages individuals to shop close to home and support their local businesses,” said chamber president Jonathan McGraw.
Tourism Kelowna issued a brief statement in response to Monday’s limited travel directive.
“We monitor the recommendations and directions from public health leaders very closely,” said Lisanne Ballantyne, president and CEO of Tourism Kelowna.
“We’re continuing to encourage residents to stay local and support local by reminding them of all the wonderful experiences they can have safely right here at home until we’re able to resume marketing activities outside of our region.”
B.C.’s travel guidelines indicate all non-essential travel should be avoided. This includes travel into and out of B.C. and between regions of the province.
“Do not travel for a vacation. Do not travel to visit friends or family outside of your household or core bubble,” the current travel advisory says.
Trips considered essential include travel for work within your region and for medical appointments and hospital visits.
While British Columbians are being urged to stay close to home, Henry also encouraged people to get outdoors.
“We know that there are things we can do safely, and mostly that means doing them outside and keeping our distance and our safety measures in place. For our own physical, but emotional and mental health, everybody should go outside every day, whether it is in your backyard or your immediate neighbourhood,” she said.
“Take your family, take your pet, but find some time to go outside and stay small and stay within your household, your work or your school cohort only.”
In March, the province permitted outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people.
“Seeing a small number of people from outside your household outside is allowed, but it needs to be done in small ways, and we are discouraging even that right now,” Henry said.
B.C. recorded 3,289 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend, along with 18 deaths.
In spring 2020, there were very few cases of COVID-19 in the Okanagan until after the May long weekend, when regional travel and parties were linked to a spike in cases.View link »