No new cases in the north, travel banned to Haida Gwaii

No new cases of COVID-19 were reported in northern B.C on Thursday, including the ongoing outbreak on Haida Gwaii.

The total number of cases in the Northern Health region since the start of the outbreak remained at 86, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said. B.C. Centre for Disease Control data released on Thursday showed there were 12 active cases in the north, all linked to the Haida Gwaii outbreak.

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"We have no new cases in Haida Gwaii. So that's good news," Henry said. "(But) there are a number of people in the incubation period, so new cases are certainly possible."

On Thursday Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth issued an order restricting non-resident travel to Haida Gwaii in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. There are currently 20 cases – including eight people who have now recovered – of COVID-19 associated with the outbreak on the islands.

According to Northern Health, all cases are believed to be related to residents who have travelled off-island, or who had contact with a resident who has travelled off-island.

The province made the decision in collaboration with the Haida Nation and other local governments. The province is deploying staff to help enforce the order.

In addition, COVID-19 testing on the islands has been prioritized. 

"COVID-19 has been challenging for everyone in our province. I am thankful the leadership of communities across Haida Gwaii has worked together to take these actions collaboratively," Henry said. "This order will help the province ensure resources are in place to protect public health and safety as Haida Gwaii works to contain this outbreak. These measures are part of a swift, effective and co-ordinated public health response that includes prioritized testing, thorough contact tracing, and prioritized travel to and from the community."

Travel to Haida Gwaii will be permitted for the delivery of essential goods and supplies, urgent family matters and to provide essential services, subject to approval by local authorities.

Also on Thursday, the Canadian Border Services Agency announced stricter rules for Americans travelling through Canada between Alaska and the mainland U.S.

As of Friday, travellers looking to pass through Canada to or from Alaska will only be allowed to enter Canada at the Osoyoos; Abbotsford-Huntingdon; Kingsgate; Coutts, Alta.; and North Portal, Sask. border crossings. Entry from Alaska into Canada will be allowed at any of the normal border points.

In addition, they will only be allowed to stay a reasonable period of time necessary to travel, will be required to use the most direct route between where they enter and exit Canada, and will be required to report to the Canadian Border Services Agency when they leave the country. 

Travellers will be issued a vehicle hang-tag they will be required to display from their rear view mirror when in Canada. The date they are required to leave Canada by will be marked on the tag.

Travellers will have to prove to border service agents that they have a valid reason to travel through Canada.

In addition, Americans travelling through Canada will be advised to avoid contact with people and remain in their vehicle as much as possible, not make unnecessary stops, use drive-throughs rather than entering restaurants, pay at the pump at gas stations, wear a face covering when in transit, and practice physical distancing at all times.

Any British Columbians travelling to the U.S. are required to self-isolate for two weeks upon their return, no exceptions, Henry added.

"I have become aware of people who have travelled to the U.S. and believed they are except to the quarantine order," she said. "Even if you are an essential worker, you have to obey our self-isolation rules."

Throughout the province there were 29 new cases on Thursday, bringing the province's total since the start of the pandemic to 3,591, Henry said. There were a total of 242 active cases in B.C.

A total of five people in the province were hospitalized from the disease, with two in intensive care. As of Wednesday, none of the patients in the Haida Gwaii outbreak were hospitalized.

There were no new deaths linked to COVID-19 on Thursday, leaving the provinces's death toll from the pandemic at 194. No deaths in the north have been linked to COVID-19.

Much of the current surge in cases can be linked to Canada Day activities in the Okanagan, Henry said, and she urged British Columbians to follow public health guidelines over the B.C. Day weekend.

"The actions you take do make a difference," Henry said. "Thank you for resetting and rejoining our efforts to continue this virus in British Columbia."

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