British Columbia

Reports of crowded ferries 'overblown,' most people staying home: B.C. health officer

Dr. Bonnie Henry says she's seeing encouraging signs that British Columbians aren't travelling over the long weekend.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says she's seeing encouraging signs that British Columbians aren't travelling

BC Ferries sailings have been reduced, and passenger capacity on each vessel has been cut in half. (Robb Douglas/CBC)

Streams of vehicles pouring off ferries docking at B.C.'s Gulf Islands and beyond have raised eyebrows, prompting many residents and leaders of small communities to speak out against travellers who might be carrying COVID-19.

But on Saturday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry tried to alleviate the concerns of people living in tourism hotspots along the coast, suggesting some reports of crowded ferries were "overblown."

"I am heartened that I think most people are doing what they need to do," Henry said at her daily briefing.

Leading into the weekend, BC Ferries' online portal showed some sailings were nearly 90 per cent full. However, the data only reflects vehicle space, not overall passengers on board.

Total sailings have been reduced, and passenger capacity on each vessel has been cut in half.

In an emailed statement, BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said the busiest sailing on Friday had only 408 passengers. That vessel, which travels between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay, is licensed to carry 2,100 people.

"We are seeing a huge reduction in the number of customers travelling with us," wrote Marshall.

Henry said the overall passenger traffic is a fraction of what ferries might see on a typical Easter long weekend.

Dr. Bonnie Henry is shown during a news conference on March 18. On Saturday, Henry suggested some reports of crowded ferries were 'overblown.' (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

No travel restrictions coming

The province has closed all B.C. parks, postponing camping in those spaces until at least the end of May.

Still, some residents living in smaller island communities told CBC News that there's been an influx of travellers heading to private campgrounds for the weekend.

"It's terrible," said Lorne Salter, a resident on Gabriola Island who's among those who have noticed an uptick in visitors. 

"I think they should set up checkpoints on the highway by the ferries," said Salter.

Gabriola is one of many communities that have asked travellers not to visit. BC Ferries says it's not authorized to restrict travel.

When asked if the province would ramp up its efforts to curb ill-advised travel, Henry said there would be no restrictions issued.

"There are many reasons why people may need to travel, whether it's for family, for being able to check up on people, that they've not had the ability to do that before," said Henry.

"I don't believe there's a need for stepped-up enforcement, or lockdowns or any of those types of measures," she added.

Henry reiterated the importance of people staying within their home municipalities, and encouraged people to get outdoors while practising safe physical distancing.

"It's important for us to get out, to be with our family, our households, and to experience the fresh air," she said. "What I'm seeing as well is people are really good about it — they're keeping their distance, they're keeping their space from people."

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