British Columbia

'Not the time': Officials, communities urge British Columbians not to travel this long weekend

With Easter weekend around the corner and spring temperatures climbing, B.C.'s provincial health officer and a number of rural communities are urging people to stay away from holiday homes and popular outdoor areas.

'If you truly enjoy our area and all it has to offer, you will respect our simple plea,' wrote Pemberton mayor

A joint statement from several Sea-to-Sky districts said that "mid-summer levels of visitation" have been observed near trails, with increasing number of campers congregating near beaches. (Karl Woll)

With Easter weekend around the corner and spring temperatures climbing, B.C.'s provincial health officer and a number of rural communities are urging people to stay away from holiday homes and popular outdoor areas to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"This is not the time to do that. It is important that we don't go to communities that don't have the resources to support us if we get sick," said Henry in her daily briefing on Tuesday.

Health Minister Adrian Dix echoed the message, stressing that B.C., whose percentage of new cases appears to be stable, needs to remain disciplined.

"This weekend in Vancouver or Victoria, may be the best weather of the year, but it is not the time to travel, visit second homes. No non-essential travel — we actively discourage it."

Communities warn of lack of capacity

Area director with the Regional District of the Okanagan Similkameen, Bob Coyne, said he's concerned the good weather and long weekend will tempt people to flee the city, potentially bringing cases of COVID-19 to a community with few resources to deal with it.

"You know, we have a very small, very small hospital here and in the event that things do go sideways here we are very concerned about our capacity of our hospital to deal with an influx of people like this," he said.

 "There are people who have beautiful [secondary] homes and I totally understand their reasoning for coming, it's just that normally those people don't require health care when they are here. Our hospital is based on a much smaller population."

A number of smaller communities usually dependent on tourism also posted statements urging people to stay away.

Watch B.C. health officials' message to people considering long weekend travel:

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says 'let's bend the curve and not the rules.' 0:58

In a joint statement, communities in the Sea-to-Sky region urged visitors to avoid non-essential travel to Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, Lillooet and the recreation areas in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. 

"Never would we ever have imagined, as mayors and as the chair of the regional district, that we would be telling visitors to avoid the Sea-to-Sky region," wrote Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board chair Tony Rainbow.

"Normally at this time of year, we'd be welcoming visitors to golf, mountain bike, hike, camp and climb. But currently, it is imperative that residents stay home, and visitors stay away to reduce the spread of this highly contagious virus."

'Reckless and irresponsible'

The statement said "mid-summer levels of visitation" have been observed near trails, with increasing number of campers congregating near beaches.

The statement said that people visiting for recreational purposes put health-care workers, and other essential workers like grocery store employees at risk.

Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman wrote that disregarding provincial orders is "reckless and irresponsible."

Bob Sterne, who runs the Mosey-On-Inn in Coalmont, northwest of Princeton in B.C.'s southern Interior, says though he's dependent on tourists for business, "now is not the time" to be travelling to small communities. (Bob Sterne)

"If you truly enjoy our area and all it has to offer, you will respect our simple plea so that we can welcome you back in the near future."

A statement issued by the Village of Harrison Hot Springs said that the village is closed to visitors, and that "with spring in the air, tourists are still taking to the hiking trails and beaches despite the looming threat of contracting or spreading the COVID-19 virus."

Harrison Hot Springs Mayor Leo Facio posted a video pleading for visitors to stay away, writing that "for the health and safety of our residents, public works crew, and for yourselves, please do not visit our community... We will welcome you back at another time."

Elsewhere, the East Kootenay Regional District has asked that the B.C.-Alberta border be closed to non-essential traffic, and that campgrounds and the backcountry be shuttered. 

"People pulling trailers should be warned at this point they really are not wanted in British Columbia," said East Kootenay regional district  board chair Rob Gay.

"Let's just do a spot closure — temporary in nature ... people [will] just say 'We're not going to put up with that hassle. Let's just stay home this weekend.'"

With files from Bob Keating and Brady Strachan

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