COVID-19 in B.C.: Peace Arch Park, used for Canada-U.S. reunions, closed after “dramatic increase" in visitors

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      A park where people have been reuniting with loved ones from across the Canada-U.S. border is being closed.

      The B.C. environment and climate ministry issued a news release stating that Peace Arch Provincial Park will temporarily close from 8 p.m. today (June 18) until further notice to address “public safety and traffic concerns in neighbouring communities due to a significant increase in the number of park visitors”.

      Since the reopening of the park on May 14 (B.C. Parks had closed all provincial parks on April 8), the B.C. government stated that attendance has doubled, compared to the same time period last year; vehicles have been overwhelming parking lots and access roads, resulting in illegal parking; and the number of pedestrians has increased along roadways.

      Although measures have been implemented to address increased visitors—such as new signage, increased enforcement patrols, a permanent gate installed at the park entrance, and reduced park hours—the potential for virus transmission remained an issue.

      Consequently, B.C. Parks, in consultation with RCMP, border officials, and local communities, closed the park because of a “dramatic increase in visitation in recent weeks”.

      The closure occurs a few days after a journalist asked B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry during a daily B.C. COVID-19 briefing on June 15 about the risk of transmission between people meeting in the park from opposite sides of the border.

      When asked whether these people needed to quarantine, Dr. Henry said no, but added that they should take precautions, such as physical distancing, and be cautious about contact with other people.

      The closure of the U.S-Canada border to all nonessential travel has been extended to July 21.

      The federal government has made an exemption to the Federal Quarantine Act by allowing immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to enter Canada if they have no COVID-19 symptoms. However, they must self-isolate for 14 days.

      The closure of the park also is taking place after several reports arose that U.S. travellers had allegedly used a loophole to enter Canada by claiming to be heading to Alaska, but instead were vacationing in B.C. and Alberta.

      Over the past two weeks, Dr. Henry, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, and B.C. Premier John Horgan have all expressed concern about large surges or record high spikes in cases in several states south of B.C.

      The U.S. is now at approximately 2,175,000 cases and 118,100 deaths, while Canada is at about 102,000 cases and 8,400 deaths.

      As of June 17, Washington state has had approximately 26,800 cases and 1,226 deaths; Oregon has had about 6,200 cases and 183 deaths; and California has had 161,100 cases and almost 5,300 deaths.

      Meanwhile, B.C. has had 2,775 cases and 168 deaths.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.