British Columbia

Thousands sign petition asking that travel to Vancouver Island be restricted

Thousands have signed an online petition asking that access to Vancouver Island via BC Ferries be restricted to essential services, supplies, and residents, following concerns that a wave of long weekend vacationers would spread COVID-19 to areas with few medical resources.

BC Ferries' long weekend traffic has become a source of anxiety and tension as B.C. combats COVID-19

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

Thousands have signed an online petition asking that access to Vancouver Island via BC Ferries be restricted to essential services, supplies, and residents only, following concerns that a wave of long weekend vacationers could spread COVID-19 to areas with few medical resources.

"We're still seeing tourists from other provinces and the US driving on our roads here.  We need to be proactive and protect our residents — this island has a lot of people who are considered high risk and it's in our best interest to come together as a community to protect our friends, family and neighbours," the petition reads in part. 

"This needs to work both ways ... residents from Vancouver Island shouldn't be travelling to the mainland if it's not essential."

More than 26,000 had signed the online petition as of Sunday afternoon.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix repeatedly asked B.C. residents to avoid all non-essential travel throughout the week. But leading into the weekend, BC Ferries' online portal showed some sailings were nearly 90 per cent full.

That data only reflects vehicle space, not overall passengers on board. Total sailings have also been significantly reduced, and passenger capacity on each vessel has been cut in half.

Henry said in her Saturday briefing that reports of people flooding Vancouver Island were "overblown" and that a majority of people are following provincial and federal directives to stay home.

Passengers drive onto a BC Ferries vessel from Tsawwassen to the Southern Gulf Islands on Friday, after provincial officials urged the public to avoid all non-essential travel. (Chris Corday/CBC)

'Stop this before May long weekend hits'

Al Siebring, the mayor of the Municipality of North Cowichan, said that while he didn't necessarily agree that measures should be brought in to restrict all non-essential travel, the traffic seen over the weekend did indicate a problem.

"The people who took the ferries this weekend, the majority of them anecdotally appeared to be folks towing boats and RVs and who knows what, and it was recreational travel. That's not consistent with the messaging that the province and local governments have been putting out saying, please stay home," he said.

Siebring said he's also heard reports of tourists travelling to northern Vancouver Island and clearing out grocery and convenient stores already struggling to maintain inventory.

"Now these other customers are coming in and cleaning out the milk and the eggs and the groceries and leaving the locals high and dry," he said.

"Stop this before the May long weekend hits ... find a way to define what is essential travel and then to find a way to clearly enforce that essential travel on BC Ferries so that we don't repeat what we had this weekend."

BC Ferries says it's not authorized to restrict travel.

With files from Max Collins

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