A petition asking that access to Vancouver Island is limited to essential services, supplies and residents only during the COVID-19 pandemic has garnered thousands of signatures.
“Vancouver Island residents are worried about their safety amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and we’re still seeing tourists from other provinces and the U.S. driving on our roads here,” the online petition says. “We need to be proactive and protect our residents.”
As of Sunday afternoon, more than 28,000 people signed the petition and the number was still increasing on the website. The petition calls for BC Ferries to limit travel to essential services and “implement restricted access for residents who are trying to return home to their families.”
“This needs to work both ways,” the petition says. “Residents from Vancouver Island shouldn’t be travelling to the mainland if it’s not essential.”
Before the Easter long weekend, Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued warnings that people should not make travel and gathering plans for the weekend.
New measures from Transport Canada came into effect on April 6 for screening all passengers for COVID-19 symptoms on ferry sailings longer than 30 minutes. The new rules also state that operators of vessels carrying more than 12 passengers must reduce sailings by 50 per cent of the maximum number of passengers to help with physical distancing as well.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, BC Ferries also reduced sailings for 60 days beginning on April 10. The company announced reduced sailings for the Southern Gulf Islands.
Since the pandemic began, ferry traffic has been down by about 40 per cent according to BC Ferries chief executive Mark Collins. On March 25, the corporation asked people to avoid non-essential ferry trips.
During a Saturday news conference, Henry said she was in contact with BC Ferries about long weekend travellers. She said the corporation confirmed “they are only seeing a fraction of the traffic that they would normally on this weekend.”
-With files from Tom Fletcher and Wolf Depner