VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Despite calls from B.C.’s top health officials to stay at home this long weekend, some BC Ferries took to the waters at full capacity this week.
“We have seen a bit of an uptick over the long weekend but we are asking people don’t travel if it’s not essential,” Deborah Marshall with BC Ferries tells NEWS 1130. “Traffic is substantially down compared to a regular Easter long weekend.”
People across B.C. have noticed the uptick as well, taking to social media to express frustration with travellers they believe are hitting the road for non-essential reasons, some going as far as calling on BC Ferries to restrict who’s allowed on board.
How is it that BC Ferries is 98% full on the Easter long weekend when only essential travel is "allowed". Vancouver Island and all the Gulf Islands are about to see in increase in COVID-19
— Jodi Beaubier (for real) (@jbeaubier) April 10, 2020
BC Ferries 7 pm sailings to Vancouver Island full! So much for people not traveling this weekend!!! Grrrrrr.
— Tim Orr (@Timothyporr) April 10, 2020
Can @BCFerries explain why boatloads of non-residents are being allowed to travel to the Gulf Islands and Sunshine Coast?
This is a potential public health crisis in the making.
— Chi sin Gweilo (@ChiSin_Gweilo) April 10, 2020
I understand that some of us are essential services commuting for work, travelling to med appts or moving out of their apartment , but WTF are the rest of you here for? @BCFerries. Also did not get screened re: symptoms as promised pic.twitter.com/6k5SSROmFd
— Christy Hennessy (@xyhennessy) April 10, 2020
While it’s not clear how many people taking a BC Ferries ahead of this long weekend are travelling for non-essential reasons, some who live in areas serviced by BC Ferries believe it’s a substantial amount.
“Any nice sunny day more and more people are coming to the coast,” says Barbara Huish, who lives in Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast. “Young people with dirt bikes, people that have their summer homes here are coming over it looks like to open up for the season.”
She’s among the people who want BC Ferries travel restricted to prevent COVID-19 from spreading into rural communities, many of which have higher populations of older people but less medical resources.
“It’s obvious if it’s a food truck, it’s obvious if it’s the supplies that need to come up here,” she says, adding others should be asked to prove their permanent residence. “I suspect most of the people are living in Vancouver and just sneaking over here.”
If travel is non-essential then do not travel: BC Ferries
Repeating what BC Ferries has tweeted to some of those people calling on restrictions, Marshall says they don’t have the power to do that.
“If we are mandated by either the provincial or the federal government to completely restrict travel then we would do that,” she adds. “But at this point in time we are advising customers if travel is non-essential then do not travel, this is not a time for leisure travel.”
Hi there – We are not authorized to restrict travel for non-residents. That directive will need to come from the provincial gov’t. While BC Ferries has asked customers to avoid non-essential travel, we are unable to constrain traffic. ^ta
— BC Ferries (@BCFerries) April 9, 2020
Marshall adds Transport Canada has put in regulations that restrict the numbers of foot passengers they can carry on a vessel to about 50 per cent.
Dr. Bonnie Henry has said: ‘we have not taken that approach in B.C. and we don’t intend to’
When asked if restricting traffic on BC Ferries is something being looked at, B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure suggested it wasn’t.
“On the topic of travel enforcement, Dr. Bonnie Henry has said: ‘we have not taken that approach in B.C. and we don’t intend to,'” the ministry said to NEWS 1130. “Over the long weekend, we are urging people to listen to Dr. Henry and avoid all non-essential travel.”
The ministry added it’s important to ensure coastal communities continue to have minimum service levels maintained.
“The transportation network is essential for maintaining the critical supply chain for food, goods and medicine, and ensuring people have access to essential goods and services. This includes getting supplies to hospitals and grocery stores,” it said. “Therefore, there are currently no plans to shut down the ferries or any of B.C.’s highways or public roads, but now is not the time to travel for tourism or recreation.”
On Thursday during the daily COVID-19 update, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry explained this is not time to be travelling and even offered ideas for things we can safely do this long weekend.
“Reach out to your elderly neighbour, offer to tidy their garden to drop off food; host your own cooking show online; stream a movie with a friend,” she said.
“We all need kindness and we all need connection, so let’s do that safely at home this weekend,” Henry added.