Vancouver Island MP joins growing call for ban on non-essential BC Ferries travel

Renewed call for new restrictions to limit ferry traffic to Vancouver Island during coronavirus outbreak
WATCH: With renewed calls for BC Ferries restrictions to further limit traffic to Vancouver Island during the COVID-19 pandemic, the crown corporation says traffic is down significantly. Brad MacLeod reports.

A Vancouver Island MP has penned a letter to the prime minister and B.C. premier asking to restrict all non-essential travel on BC Ferries amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Paul Manly, MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, says he is concerned about reports of a spike in ferry traffic over the Easter weekend.

“There can be no justification for a rise in ferry ridership during a long weekend in a public health emergency,” he wrote.

“This can no longer just be a request for people to stay home. The government needs to restrict travel and enforce that restriction.”

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

An online petition calling for a ban on non-essential travel has garnered more than 37,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

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Petition organizer Bronwen Blunt echoed Manly’s sentiments.

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“I actually live on a major route in Nanaimo, and I’ve seen a lot of people with campers and boats driving by,” she said.

Blunt said a ban should be in place ahead of the May long weekend.

“I’m talking about both directions,” she added. “People from the island don’t need to be going over to the mainland and into the interior to go camping, either.”

BC Ferries vehicle traffic busy despite calls to stay home on Easter long weekend
BC Ferries vehicle traffic busy despite calls to stay home on Easter long weekend

BC Ferries has significantly reduced the number of sailings on all routes during 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.

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said this weekend that reports of high ferry traffic were “overblown,” but still urged people to avoid non-essential travel during Easter.

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

Henry said BC Ferries confirmed it was seeing a fraction of the traffic it normally would on a long weekend.

On Monday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said 173,284 people travelled from Thursday to Sunday of Easter weekend last year. This year, there were 14,633 travellers.

“I’m heartened that I think most people are doing what we need to do, and they’re staying home,” she said.

“They’re looking after their family, they’re taking care of their neighbours. They’re managing this challenging time staying close to home and a safe distance from others.”

— With files from Sean Boynton and Richard Zussman