Welcome back, tourists!

Local politicians are welcoming tourists back to Penticton and surrounding area after the B.C. government announced Wednesday it has ended a ban on non-essential travel within the province as part of the next phase of its restart plan.

“Penticton has always been a tourist destination for all seasons, especially in the summer,” John Vassilaki said in a statement.

“We look forward to welcoming guests back to our great city while maintaining provincial health guidelines and public safety.”

The chairwoman of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen delivered a similar message to potential visitors.

“The reopening plan is a vital part of recovery efforts for businesses,” Karla

Kozakevich said in a statement.

“And while we welcome travellers from across B.C. and other provinces, we’re reminding everyone to continue following provincial health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Kozakevich’s statement reversed one she issued ahead of the May long weekend that pleaded with visitors to stay away and respect a ban on non-essential travel.

But the game changed Wednesday when Premier John Horgan announced the province is moving into Phase 3 of the B.C. Restart Plan.

Besides allowing non-essential travel like tourism, the next phase also means hotels, resorts, parks, the film industry and entertainment venues such as movie theatres will all be able to reopen.

“We need to remember we are not leaving COVID-19 behind,” Horgan told a press conference.

“It is here in every corner of British Columbia, and we need to behave accordingly. And we need to prepare ourselves not just as individuals, but our economy to manage that.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said people must continue to practise physical distancing and take other precautions as we enter this “unique summer.”

“Even if we see more people and start to travel in British Columbia, we must still keep our circle small,” she said. “If we go too far, we risk a rebound and we will risk losing ground that we have worked so hard to get. None of us want that.”

Henry said if people are visiting from elsewhere, the province needs to help them understand through signage and modelling that they need to maintain a physical distance, exercise hand hygiene and keep circles of people small.

Non-essential international travel remains a no-go.

Meanwhile, Dr. Henry announced Wednesday afternoon that B.C. had recorded 14 new cases of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases in the province to 2,849. One additional death was also recorded, lifting that toll to 171.

Of the total number of cases, 162 are considered active and 2,516 people have recovered.

Interior Health has recorded only four new cases in June – the last on Monday – for a total of 199. There have been two COVID-19-related deaths in the region since March.

With files from the Victoria Times Colonist. This story has been updated with the statement from Kozakevich and COVID-19 stats.