Vancouver Sun

Long-weekend travellers fill up ferries, highways

- GLENDA LUYMES with files by Tiffany Crawford

The road outside Maggie O'shaughness­y's home on Galiano Island was busy Friday morning as visitors ignored pleas by health officials and island residents to stay home over the long weekend to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“It's a small island. It's easy to tell who lives here and who doesn't,” the yoga instructor told Postmedia. “I'm working in my garden and I'm watching these carloads of people go by. They almost look ashamed.”

On Twitter, NDP MLA Nicholas Simons had strong words for travellers, saying that on Thursday “ferries to the Sunshine Coast were full of people who deserve to live in a dictatorsh­ip.”

Other island residents reported the number of cars arriving by ferry and called on B.C. Ferries to help. In response, B.C. Ferries said it was not authorized to restrict travel: “That directive will need to come from the provincial (government)."

B.C. Ferries has dramatical­ly reduced sailings on all routes since the pandemic began, reporting an 80 per cent drop in traffic. It has also reduced the amount of passengers on board by 50 per cent to enable physical distancing.

But on Friday, about 30 minutes before sailing, the 11 a.m. ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island was 94 per cent full, while the 5 p.m. sailing was 73 per cent full.

O'shaughness­y, a former registered nurse, was worried a visitor may inadverten­tly spread the virus to Galiano residents, many of whom are in their 70s.

“We have a fantastic clinic here, but it is not equipped for a sudden increase in people,” she said. “People need to take this seriously.”

In other popular vacation towns across B.C., residents were reporting heavy traffic, including campers and boats.

In Osoyoos, former B.C. Nurses' Union president Gayle Duteil tweeted Thursday evening that Highway 3 was “nothing but headlights, campers and even towing boats.” Provisions, such as milk, eggs, meat and toilet paper, were in short supply.

Health officials have been calling on people to stay home and forgo travel to second homes, favourite vacation spots and even parks outside their region to prevent the spread of the virus.

On Thursday, health officials in B.C. and Alberta issued a joint statement, urging travellers not to cross the border between the two provinces, while the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety said people should “stay safe by staying home over the long weekend.”

“These are extraordin­ary times. A global pandemic puts us all at risk — and we all must stay home, stay in our communitie­s and stay at a safe physical distance from others when outside,” said B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix and Minister of Health for Alberta Tyler Shandro.

Meanwhile, B.C. Parks closed all provincial parks before the long weekend after physical distancing measures in the wilderness failed.

“We tried to provide safe space for people to get some exercise and fresh air in our beautiful parks. But it has proven too challengin­g to maintain safe distance between visitors,” B.C. Environmen­t Minister George Heyman said in a statement.

B.C. Parks has also extended the ban on all camping in provincial parks until May 31.

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