B.C.’s government has ordered Haida Gwaii closed to non-residents in response to a COVID-19 community outbreak on the northern island archipelago.
There are currently 20 cases associated with the outbreak. The Northern Health Authority said all cases are believed to be related to residents who have travelled off-island, or who had contact with a resident who has travelled off-island.
Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth July 30 used his state of emergency powers to restrict non-resident travel to the archipelago while maintaining essential goods and services for residents, supporting the Haida Nation and B.C.’s continued COVID-19 pandemic response.
“The province, Northern Health and the First Nations Health Authority are working closely with the Haida Nation and local governments on Haida Gwaii to respond to this COVID-19 outbreak,” Farnworth said. “Our foremost concern is the health and safety of all residents of Haida Gwaii, and we're working together to limit further spread of COVID-19.”
This order will help the province ensure resources are in place to protect public health and safety as Haida Gwaii works to contain this outbreak,” Henry said. “These measures are part of a swift, effective and co-ordinated public health response that includes prioritized testing, thorough contact tracing, and prioritized travel to and from the community”
Island residents have been working since the pandemic outbreak to protect themselves.
As early as the third week in March, the Council of Haida Nation was asking all non-residents or leisure travellers to stay away from Haida Gwaii to limit any spread of COVID-19.
The Haida requested military assistance in April.
Members of the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group provided municipal officials with logistical support including wellness checks; gathering data and statistics on the current state of the community relative to the COVID-19 relief efforts; and delivering critical goods to people in need including groceries and prescription medications.
The situation had led to friction between island residents and fishing lodge operators. Earlier in July, Haida matriarchs planned to occupy two ancient villages on Haida Gwaii after two fishing lodges decided to reopen despite objections from the First Nation.
Residents have also met mainland ferries to try to turn back visitors.
The decision to restrict non-resident travel was made in a government-to-government collaboration with Council of the Haida Nation, Skidegate Band Council, Old Massett Village Council and local governments, in consultation with the provincial health officer.
“The province will deploy staff to support communities on the mainland and on Haida Gwaii to implement the travel restriction,” Farnworth’s ministry said.
Testing for the islands has been prioritized and results are being received within 36 hours.
Community contact tracing continues and supports are in place on the islands for those who have tested positive, including special accommodations for self-isolation if needed.
Travel to Haida Gwaii will continue to be permitted, subject to the approval of the collective Haida Gwaii communities, for the delivery of essential goods and supplies, medical appointments, urgent or emergency family matters, and for the provision of essential services as defined by the unified command structure comprised of the Council of the Haida Nation, village councils and local governments.