Horgan tells feds to 'up their game' on U.S. border-crossers amid COVID-19 outbreak
VICTORIA -- B.C. Premier John Horgan is calling on the federal government to impose stricter travel measures on U.S. citizens coming to the province amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The premier said he raised the issue in a phone call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and fellow premiers Friday afternoon, telling Trudeau that Ottawa needed to "up their game" to protect British Columbians at ports of entry from the United States.
The coronavirus death toll in neighbouring Washington state reached 37 on Friday, with more than 560 people testing positive.
"We've seen actually no increase in cases from China, no increase in cases from Iran," Horgan said. "But we have seen an increase in cases from the United States, particularly connected to travellers coming into our points of entry. So border crossings, airports, ferries, these are areas where I wanted the federal government to up their game and I made that pretty clear."
Less than an hour after Horgan's statement, however, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced five new cases of coronavirus in B.C. that appear to have been contracted overseas.
The new travel-related cases came to B.C. from Iran, Egypt, the Philippines and Mexico, Henry said, while the source of two more cases was still under investigation.
Horgan said the federal government's half-billion-dollar allotment to the provinces to fight the viral outbreak will be allocated on an as-needed basis rather than a per-capita basis by population.
The province has already supplied Ottawa with "a fairly comprehensive list" of equipment needed to fight COVID-19, Horgan said, but stressed that some federal policy amendments are still lacking.
Among the amendments Horgan said he asked for are changes to Transport Canada regulations that would allow passengers on BC Ferries vessels to remain in their cars below-deck instead of congregating in passenger areas while transiting B.C. waterways.
BC Ferries asked the federal Transport ministry to allow passengers to remain on lower vehicle decks to prevent further spread of the virus but that request was denied.
"Amending these regulations would compromise, not increase the safety of those on board," said Transport ministry spokesperson Livia Belcea in an email to CTV News. "Passengers on open, upper vehicle decks can remain inside their vehicles if they choose to."
Earlier Friday, the federal government banned the arrival of cruise ships carrying more than 500 people to Canadian shores until July 1.
"The cancellation until July of the cruise ship industry is, I think, an appropriate first step," Horgan said. "But I also reminded the prime minister that we have a cruise ship company of our own – BC Ferries – that moves up and down the coast of British Columbia."
The move to suspend the cruise season is expected to have a devastating economic impact on Victoria and the province at large.
The cruise industry contributes approximately $3 billion annually to Canada's economy, with two-thirds of that made on the West Coast, according to the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.
Horgan said the economic impacts of the coronavirus are "of paramount importance" to the province and said the economy was a focus of his call with Trudeau.
Horgan said he has asked for greater flexibility from Ottawa in providing employment insurance benefits to British Columbians, including addressing wait times before benefits can be accessed and providing broader coverage to self-employed and contract workers.