VANCOUVER -- New measures are now in place to limit travel in B.C. for the next several weeks in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth outlined the latest restrictions Friday morning, explaining they'll be in place through the May long weekend and expire on May 25.

"I want to thank the vast majority of British Columbians who are following provincial health orders," Farnworth said.

"We've all made great sacrifices to protect our collective health and to keep our health-care system functioning safely. While I'm disappointed additional measures are necessary, I'm taking further action to carry us through the current spike in COVID-19 cases … for now we need to hunker down and stay local."

Farnworth said "the time has come" to restrict non-essential travel in a formal way and anyone caught breaking the rules can be fined $575.

"I'm restricting non-essential travel into or out of all health authority regions effective immediately," he said. "This is a legal order, under the emergency program act."

Farnworth explained the Northern and Interior health authorities would be considered a combined region. The same is the case for Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions.

For all regions, people can travel within the area, but not outside of them. As well, essential travel like going to work, going to school, returning to a principal residence and getting health care is exempt from these rules. The focus of the order, Farnworth explained, is to target recreational travel.  

"This order is to ensure people stop traversing large parts of the province, for example going from Kamloops to Whistler or from Vancouver to Tofino," he said. "It will not apply to travel within the defined region."

But Farnworth said there is still a distinction between these legal orders and the current public health guidelines. In other words, even though someone won't be fined under the order for travelling a long distance in their region, like from Abbotsford to Squamish, "that doesn't mean these trips should be happening," he explained.

"If you really have to ask, 'Should I go to Chilliwack,' the answer is no you shouldn't, if you live in Vancouver," he said, adding that current health guidelines ask people to stay in their communities and that there are some places people shouldn't be going to at all.

"Whistler's mayor, for example, is explicitly asking people not to visit right now. We need to make common sense decisions on how to protect us all from further spread."

Farnworth gave the example that he won't be travelling to White Rock for recreation from his home in the Tri-Cities.

"If you live on the North Shore, that's your local area. Stay in that area," he said. "If you're in Vancouver, you've got Stanley Park. I think most people do understand what their local area means."

To inform British Columbians of the new rules, Farnworth said signage will be posted on highways and BC Ferries will deter non-essential bookings and limit sailings. Accommodations are also being encouraged to cancel bookings from people who are arriving from outside the health area. As well, ICBC is being asked to reschedule road tests booked outside of a person's region.

Signs will also be posted along B.C.'s border with Alberta discouraging travel, but Farnworth said this order is focused on intraprovincial trips.

"Over the coming days, we will continue working with police to establish additional measures to ensure they have the necessary authority to conduct periodic roadside checks like the counter attack program at strategic points into and out of the defined regions," Farnworth said.

On Thursday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said with current levels of transmission, travel will spread the virus even further in B.C.

"Staying in our local communities means we are not going to and from COVID hotspots and inadvertently bringing the virus along with us," she said.

However, earlier in the week, a group that represents front-line RCMP officers has pushed back against the roadblocks, saying it puts more pressure on limited resources and exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections.

The National Police Federation released a statement on Wednesday noting it has “grave concerns” about police taking part in enforcing a COVID-19 ban on non-essential travel. 

With files from The Canadian Press