Premier John Horgan says he will consider a request by mayors to restrict ferry travel to Vancouver Island on the May long weekend, but he hopes such measures won’t be necessary by then.
Horgan said he’s aware of the mayors’ concerns about people making non-essential trips to the island at Easter, and potentially spreading COVID-19.
“I am an Islander born and raised,” he said. “I appreciate those concerns and we’ll be looking at it very closely.
“But the May long weekend is 1,000 years away, as far as I’m concerned, based on my daily schedule, and as we get closer to the May long weekend, I’m hopeful that we will have a whole bunch of positive initiatives in communities that will put the ferry issue to one side.”
North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring got more than 20 mayors from the Island, as well as the chairs of regional districts, to sign a letter, calling on the province to do a better job of limiting ferry travel on long weekends.
“I appreciate that this is on the province’s radar,” Siebring said Wednesday “I appreciate they’re taking it seriously.”
B.C. Ferries said the number of passengers was down more than 90 per cent on major routes from Thursday to Sunday on the Easter holiday compared with 2019.
“But even at a 91 per cent reduction, there were still almost 15,000 bums in the seats on B.C. Ferries on the Easter long weekend,” Siebring said. “I’m sorry, but you can’t tell me that all 15,000 of those were essential.
“The point is that we need to reduce that number to the essential ones.”
Siebring said the COVID-19 outbreak in Alert Bay illustrates the potential for the virus to arrive by ferry.
“Not to be alarmist, but that’s the reality,” he said. “We have kind of a unique geographic component here. We have the ability to say: ‘Stay out of our area.’
“We just do it by controlling who comes in and out on the ferries, because that’s how 90 per cent of the people get here, so why wouldn’t we take advantage of that?”
In the case of Alert Bay, Horgan said local residents could have brought the virus back to the community from outside.
“It’s not just people from away who can contract the virus and then have it spread through communities, it’s people within communities,” Horgan said.
“So I’m reluctant to put restrictions in place for Canadians travelling, put restrictions in place for British Columbians travelling, beyond what [provincial health officer] Dr. [Bonnie] Henry has already said: ‘If you do not need to travel, if your travel is not essential, stay home.’
“And I think that if we adhere to those basic principles, we’ll be fine.”