Nfld. & Labrador

Don't come from away: N.L.'s new rules aim to stop iceberg tourists

Although provincial borders are closed to non-essential travel across Canada, tourists are making their way to the Bonavista area — so the provincial government is tightening controls.

New public health order further restricts people allowed to enter province

The Bonavista area is known as a popular tourist destination to see icebergs like these, captured in a 2016 drone video. (File photo) (Robert Bartlett)

It appears some tourists are so desperate to see the icebergs around Bonavista they're lying about their reasons for taking the ferry to Newfoundland, and are frustrating local residents worried about COVID-19 infection, but new rules coming into effect will seemingly crack down on that kind of travel.

Residents in the coastal Newfoundland town — an annual draw for iceberg hunters — are frustrated by the people they say have started showing up in the area, despite public health orders restricting non-essential travel.

"We don't even have our family come to our house and we can't go to their house," said Janice Butler, who owns By the Sea Tourist Home in Bonavista. 

Butler said it doesn't make sense that people who live in the province are not allowed to associate with their families yet people from other jurisdictions are coming in. 

If you come from away, you best stay away.- John Haggie

"My daughter and granddaughter go for a walk, I gotta walk on the other side of the road ... How can you allow people to come into our province from other provinces and other countries, and they're saying there's a pandemic on the go and people are dying from it?" 

But, a new order announced Wednesday that takes effect Monday, May 4, aims to put an end to that. 

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald added the order that only residents, exempted workers, and people with an exemption from her office can enter the province.

She said exemptions would be determined on a case-by-case basis, but travelling to see a sick loved one nearing the end of their life would be one such example. 

Better safe than sorry

A number of special measures are in effect under Newfoundland and Labrador's public health emergency to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus — like physical distancing and discouraging non-essential travel — that are also in place across Canada.

Anyone who must travel to the province is supposed to isolate for 14 days upon arrival, and as of this week, sign a declaration and provide a plan to that effect. 

"I think the tourism season for 2020 should be shut down," even though it's their livelihood, said Butler.

The Town of Bonavista is a picturesque outport community in Newfoundland that is a popular draw with tourists. (Patrick Butler/CBC)

"I would still rather see it shut down and not end up being sad down the road than have it open." 

Her business in the popular tourist destination is closed for May and taking it month by month, like other operators. 

Bonavista Mayor John Norman agreed, saying he has filed a complaint about tourists violating public health orders on the provincial government's COVID-19 website.

"I met a couple from Nova Scotia. I also met a couple from Quebec. I've seen some of the American licence plates — I have yet to speak to any of them in person but we do see them around and we see them going to the drive-thru that's still operational, we see them going to the coffee shops, as well as some of the local grocery stores," Norman said. 

Bonavista Mayor John Norman, seen in a file photo, says residents are concerned about people from outside the province visiting the area during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Patrick Butler/CBC)

"We have no listed cases within our subregion right now and we'd like to keep it that way." 

The Bonavista area is one of Newfoundland and Labrador's top tourism draws. In 2018, more than 31,000 people visited the Bonavista lighthouse, while more than 22,000 people went to nearby Elliston to look at a popular puffin colony offshore. 

'We are not an enforcement agency': Marine Atlantic

On Tuesday, Health Minister John Haggie said sightseeing is not what anyone needs at this time. 

"If you come from away, you best stay away," he said. 

A spokesperson for Marine Atlantic, asked about the number of tourists arriving by ferry, said there has been a significant drop in the number of passengers since March. 

However, corporate communications officer Darrell Mercer said "it would be total speculation on my part, not knowing all the details on where people originated from" to comment about tourists heading to Bonavista. 

Health Minister John Haggie says the province is working on tightening up travel restrictions to keep tourists out. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

Mercer said Marine Atlantic ensures people know the rules as best they can before setting sail, pointing to a pre-recorded message on the reservation line with key info. Ultimately, he said, ferry workers are not police officers. 

"From our perspective, we provide the transportation mode — we are not an enforcement agency," he told CBC Radio's On The Go.

RCMP spokesperson Corp. Jolene Garland said Wednesday they are not yet investigating any such complaints in the Bonavista area, but there is a lag between the time a complaint is filed and passed on to police. 

CBC News has asked the province if it has received complaints about the issue it plans to pass on to the RCMP. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Patrick Butler, Peter Cowan, The St. John's Morning Show and On The Go


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