Transport Canada has no plans to allow passengers to remain on enclosed car decks, the agency told Black Press Media by email Wednesday (Jan. 20).
The statement was in response to a letter sent by the president of the BC Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union.
In it, Graeme Johnston said that with new, more transmissible variants of COVID-19 spreading in Canada, the risk to passengers and crew from more people on passenger decks was too high and that the agency should allow passengers to remain on enclosed decks as it did early on in the pandemic. BC Ferries allowed passengers to remain on enclosed ferry decks from March 17 to September 30 of last year, per Transport Canada regulations.
“The COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 is thought to be 30-70 per cent more infectious than the current dominant strain of COVID-19 in Canada, and has devastated several European countries despite their stringent lockdown measures,” Johnston wrote.
“We believe developments related to the spread of more infectious variants of COVID-19 should, at a minimum, initiate a review of the current risk assessments for Canadian passenger vessels.”
There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.
The letter, addressed to Julie Cascon, the director general of marine safety and security for Transport Canada, asks for a review of enclosed deck regulations to take place before community transmission of the new variant is widespread.
“We believe the increased risk of COVID-19 infection from highly contagious virus variants, like B.1.1.7, may outweigh the risks of passengers remaining in their vehicles on enclosed decks in many circumstances,” Johnston wrote.
In its response, Transport Canada said that it was too dangerous to allow passengers to remain on enclosed decks.
“On enclosed vehicle decks, fuelled vehicles, bulk and dangerous goods are often parked tightly together. If an emergency were to happen – say a fire, flooding or collision – evacuating everyone safely would be extremely difficult. In fact, the loss of life could be catastrophic,” a spokesperson said.
“No country in the world allows people to remain in their vehicles on enclosed vehicle decks.”
Transport Canada said that the wearing of masks and physical distancing were enough to keep passengers safe amid the pandemic. Non-essential travel is currently strongly discouraged in B.C.
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