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Coronavirus: B.C. highways, ferries busy Easter long weekend despite calls to stay home

BC Ferries vehicle traffic busy despite calls to stay home on Easter long weekend
BC's top doctor among the many voices urging people to spend this long weekend at home. Thos appeals ignored as many hit the road anyway. Jordan Armstrong reports.

B.C. health officials have clearly stated that they want British Columbians to stay home during the Easter long weekend to combat the novel coronavirus crisis, but there are concerns that some people aren’t getting the message.

“Don’t travel this weekend,” Health minister Adrian Dix said.

“If you are going to Sechelt or going to Gibsons every Easter for 15 years, take this year off. If you’re going to go to your second home, don’t go this weekend.

“This is the weekend to stay close to home.”

B.C. top destinations urge travelers to stay home this long weekend
B.C. top destinations urge travelers to stay home this long weekend

Despite the warning, ferries and roadways appeared busier than normal on Thursday with boats, trailers and motor homes on the move ahead of the long weekend.

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READ MORE: Alberta, B.C. officials urge residents to stay home over Easter long weekend

There was no shortage of vehicles at Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen Ferry terminals.

BC Ferries has significantly reduced the number of sailings on all routes amid the COVID-19 crisis. It is also legally required to reduce by 50 per cent the maximum number of passengers that may be carried onboard to support the two-metre physical distancing rule.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus: BC Ferries to slash service levels by half, lay off up to 1,400 workers

What sailings there were, did appear to be busy Thursday.

The 9 p.m. sailing from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay was 95 per cent full and the 7:30 p.m. sailing to the Southern Gulf Islands was 99 per cent full. Those numbers refer to the number of vehicles boarding the vehicle and not the number of passengers.

READ MORE: BC Ferries to start screening passengers for COVID-19

Coastal and island communities have called on tourists and vacation property owners to stay home.

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“I understand 25 cars came off this afternoon — two were locals, 23 were not local,” Galiano Island resident Jane Wolverton said Thursday.

“When you have such a small population everybody knows everybody.”

READ MORE: Okanagan residents urged to stay away from backcountry during coronavirus pandemic

B.C.’s top doctor says this Easter weekend is far from a traditional holiday weekend.

“This is a really important time for us and everybody this weekend we need to stay close to home,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said. “We need to be kind and unwind in our own home with our family.”

Search and rescue teams issue Easter long weekend warning
Search and rescue teams issue Easter long weekend warning

Staying at home also means staying out of the backcountry, but with sun in the forecast for B.C.’s south coast search-and-rescue groups are worried about a spike in calls.

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“People are still heading out into the wilderness and every time someone gets into trouble it puts a group of individuals at risk,” BC Search and Rescue Association senior director Dwight Yochim said.

READ MORE: B.C. couple flouts quarantine rules, highlighting gaps in COVID-19 enforcement

Starting Friday, B.C. officials will be at the border to enforce strict new measures.

The provincial government now legally requires all travellers entering B.C. from outside Canada to submit a 14-day self-isolation plan.

People will need to prove they have a place to stay and a way of getting things like groceries without going out. Travellers without an isolation plan will be taken to a quarantine area, possibly a hotel.

Health minister reminds British Columbians to ‘stay home this weekend’
Health minister reminds British Columbians to ‘stay home this weekend’

Officials will also check up on people during their isolation to make sure they’re following that plan.

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While health officials say there are encouraging signs that B.C. is “bending” the curve of COVID-19 cases, Dix says now is not the time for people to relax social-distancing measures.

“We need to keep doubling down,” he said. “We need to be all-in this weekend.”

–With files from Jennifer Palma and Richard Zussman