BC Ferries is asking passengers not to travel unless necessary

National Observer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

BC Ferries is asking passengers not to travel unless necessary during the COVID-19 outbreak, particularly to more remote island communities.

“None of us should be travelling if it is not essential,” said Mark Collins, BC Ferries’ President and CEO, in a statement

We are asking our customers to adhere to safe practices for their own safety and for the safety of BC Ferries employees.”

The corporation’s decree follows a slew of public advisories from ferry dependent communities asking visitors to stay away.

Jim Abram, Quadra Island’s regional district director, was encouraged by the ferry service’s public statement.

“I have sent an official thank you to [BC Ferries CEO] Mark Collins on our behalf,” Abram told residents on his Facebook page.

Abram, in concert with the Discovery Island Chamber of Commerce (DICC) and the We Wai Kai First Nation, made a public statement for visitors to defer non-essential travel to the island during the coronavirus crisis last week.

“So we had an impact and I want to thank the community … for supporting our release of last Friday, said Abram.

Quadra Island, Bowen Island, Powell River and Hornby and Denman and other southern gulf islands have all asked visitors to defer non-essential travel to stem the spread COVID-19 and reduce demand on limited supplies, medical services and resources.

The announcement was appropriate and reflected the B.C. government and health authorities’ directives to limit unnecessary travel, said Noba Anderson, Cortes Island regional district director.

Cortes residents may still lobby for more changes to ferry services to mitigate the spread of the virus on the island, she said.

“I anticipate BC Ferries will continue to take input from individual communities about how to provide them with specific, amended service,” she said.

Anderson is consulting with 40 different businesses and community groups on the island to craft a unified approach to dealing with COVID-19.

“I’m taking the needed time to consult with fellow community leaders, so our message is solid,” she said.

Michael Lynch, chair of the ferry advisory committee for Quadra and Cortes islands, said he agreed with the BC Ferries announcement.

“In my personal opinion, if there’s no need to travel don’t,” Lynch said.

But he questioned why anybody would travel to small communities like Quadra under the current circumstances.

“Visitors are likely self-deterring anyway,” he said. “There’s not much, if anything, open. A couple of restaurants are serving limited take out.”

BC Ferries won’t police or enforce their request to travellers, he said.

“They can’t stop anyone. That’s not their mandate,” Lynch said.“And everybody’s definition of essential travel is quite different.”

BC ferries cautioned passengers to check into local situations, especially when travelling to remote northern communities such as Port Hardy, Bella Coola, Prince Rupert, and Haida Gwaii, in a travel advisory Tuesday.

The journey to northern destinations is lengthy and many have limited resources, the advisory stated.

Deborah Marshall, BC Ferries executive director of public affairs asked customers to respect the wishes of these communities and plan visits once the COVID-19 situation abates.

As the contracted ferry service provider for the B.C. government, it will continue to follow provincial recommendations to limit the spread of COVID-19, she said.

The ferry service has not been directed to restrict travel by government at this point, said Marshall.

“The ferry system is an essential service to bring goods and supplies into coastal communities,” she said.

To protect customers and staff, the ferry service recommends passengers stay in their vehicles on most decks.

It’s also closed food and retail services, suspended baggage handling and is requiring customers to use electronic forms of payment.

BC Ferries is focused on protecting the health and safety of ferry workers who make the essential service possible, said Collins.

“Our front line co-workers face the COVID-19 virus every day, so that critical supplies like groceries and medical supplies, and people reach coastal communities,” he said.

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