B.C. Premier John Horgan is hesitant about implementing stricter ferry restrictions and is hopeful it will be unnecessary by the time the May long weekend rolls around.
During his daily COVID-19 briefing on April 22, Horgan was asked to respond to a letter sent by North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring on April 14 calling for Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to order stricter ferry travel restrictions for long weekends during the pandemic.
Siebring’s letter, endorsed by more than 30 other Island leaders, explained that while the messaging regarding non-essential travel was clear, some ignored the orders and travelled to Vancouver Island over the Easter long weekend – raising red flags for Island leaders. Siebring wrote that not only could visitors bring COVID-19 to small Island communities whose health care systems aren’t equipped to handle an influx of patients but travellers could also put a strain on necessary resources.
To ensure the upcoming summer long weekends don’t bring another influx of travellers, Siebring asked Henry to restrict passage on BC Ferries to “essential travel only” over long weekends during the pandemic.
Horgan said he’s hesitant to implement restrictions beyond what Henry has already ordered – “if your travel is non-essential, stay home” – because he feels if British Columbians adhere to her orders “we’ll be fine.”
“I am aware of Island mayors having some significant concerns,” relating to infections in small communities and the impact of travellers on the local supply chain, Horgan said, pointing out that he can appreciate the worries as he was born and raised on Vancouver Island.
He emphasized that while non-essential travel is a concern, “it’s not just people from away who can contract the virus and then have it spread through communities.” Returning locals can also bring the virus to the Island. Horgan pointed to the recent COVID-19 outbreak in the Village of Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. On April 18, the small municipality declared a local state of emergency and implemented a curfew for residents.
Horgan said he’s been in contact with Alert Bay Mayor Dennis Buchanan – who’s been diagnosed with the virus – and with Chief Don Svanvik of the ‘Namgis First Nation. The premier pointed out that Buchanan must have come into contact with the virus on Cormorant Island as he hadn’t left but noted that there’s no way to know if those who brought it to the small island were travellers or locals returning from elsewhere.
Horgan explained that the request for long weekend ferry travel restrictions will be considered but emphasized that the next long weekend is still a ways away.
“As we get closer to the May long weekend I’m hopeful that we will have a whole bunch of positive initiatives in communities that will put the ferry issue to one side,” he said. “I don’t want to be dismissive about it but it’s weeks from now and I’m living this day by day.”
Siebring is “not at all unhappy” with the premier’s response to the ferry travel concerns. He added that there’s time to monitor the issue and take action if it’s necessary before the long weekend.
“I’m just pleased that it’s on the radar and being taken seriously,” Siebring said, pointing out that it’s entirely possible the number of COVID-19 cases in B.C. will go down by May long weekend.
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