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RDEK Urging Further Travel Restrictions to Protect Region

The RDEK is urging action from the Provincial Health Officer to further implement travel restrictions to protect the East Kootenay’s communities, specifically out-of-town visitors to the region.

At their RDEK Board Metting on Friday, Tom Shypitka, MLA for Kootenay East, presented to the regional district his hope and intention of limiting inter-provincial travel between British Columbia and Alberta.

Shypitka said the closure to non-essential traffic would better protect the region’s health care system from potentially being overwhelmed by an influx of visitors and preventing COVID-19 outbreaks in smaller centres.

“This isn’t about people coming in across the border. We’re receptive to the fact that we love our Albertan neighbours and we rely on them to a large degree for a lot of things, but it’s not the people we’re opposed to it’s the cause and effect from the trans-migratory travel that’s going to be deadly for us.”

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The RDEK weighed the pros and cons during their discussion but noted that a letter and motion to the Provincial Health Officer would at least force a discussion with the federal government about all five pinch points between B.C. and Alberta.

As a result, the RDEK unanimously approved the following motion:

“THAT a letter be sent to the Provincial Health Officer requesting that additional measures, such as closure of Provincial borders to non-essential traffic into the Province, closure of private campgrounds and closure of the backcountry to overnight camping, be put in place to limit the influx of travel to and within, and gathering in, the Regional District of East Kootenay during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“As a region, we are united in our desire to reduce the impacts of this virus on our health care system and our communities,” said Rob Gay, Chair of the RDEK Board. “While the Provincial Health Officers on both sides of the border have been clear in their messaging that people need to be staying home, that message is not being heeded. We are gravely concerned about the potential impacts on our small rural hospitals, front line workers and communities.”

The specific concerns also revolve around the Easter weekend, where the East Kootenay typically sees a large surge of secondary homeowners and recreationists coming to the region.

“We are urging all non-resident property owners in our region to please stay in their primary homes. There should be absolutely no travelling back and forth,” said Gay.

“In addition, we are seeing groups of campers in the backcountry, groups of mud boggers in the Koocanusa area, several families staying together in vacation homes, and more. The Provincial Health Officer has stressed repeatedly that, while the order has only banned events of more than fifty people, there should be no group gatherings of any size. Every interaction with others increases the potential for the spread of infection and this behaviour needs to stop.”

The entire RDEK Board is hopeful that additional measures will be clarified by the Provincial Health Officers, and that action will be taken to further protect the region.

“Under the Provincial State of Emergency, local governments do not have the tools to make these changes ourselves, but we are pleading with the Province to act now to help us prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our corner of the Province,” added Gay.

As to the upcoming Easter Weekend, Gay said there is concern about the health care system, the strain on emergency services, essential services and grocery stores that may not be fully equipped to handle a large influx of people given the unprecedented time and situation.

“This is about making a conscious choice to stay home and stay safe,” said Gay. “We are asking the Provincial Health Officer to introduce new measures that will prevent all non-essential travel and make it clearer that we need to stay home.”

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