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Coronavirus: Haida Gwaii officials say they’ll turn back ferry visitors

The Gwaii Haanas legacy totem pole is seen after being raised in Windy Bay, B.C., on Lyell Island in Haida Gwaii on August 15, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck.
The Gwaii Haanas legacy totem pole is seen after being raised in Windy Bay, B.C., on Lyell Island in Haida Gwaii on August 15, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck.

Officials in Haida Gwaii say they plan to tell visitors coming in on the ferry to go straight back in a bid to prevent the arrival of the novel coronavirus.

“They are going to go back on that ferry. We are not letting them off,” said Teri Kish, the director of emergency operations for the Village of Old Massett on Graham Island, one of the two major islands that make up the popular travel destination on B.C’s coast.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Henry calls reports of full BC Ferries ‘overblown,’ says traffic is down

“If the ferry is not leaving until tomorrow, then we will supply food for them.”

Kish told Global News that her community learned about an unusually high number of people — 35 passengers — coming in on the ferry on Monday afternoon. Around 4,500 people live on Haida Gwaii.

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The community has repeatedly asked the province to stop ban non-essential travel to the islands, she said, because people continue to come to hunt and fish.

Renewed call for new restrictions to limit ferry traffic to Vancouver Island during coronavirus outbreak
Renewed call for new restrictions to limit ferry traffic to Vancouver Island during coronavirus outbreak

She said officials will ask those arriving for identification, and if they are not local residents, they will be asked to go back.

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“We are tired. We are going to let no more people who do not belong on Haida Gwaii come on to Haida Gwaii,” she said.

“We have asked, and asked and asked and nothing is being done.”

Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says Indigenous communities have the right to restrict access to their lands amidst the pandemic.

“This is part, of course, of our relationship with First Nations and their self governance. They have the ability and the authorities to make those decisions for their communities,” Dr. Henry said.

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READ MORE: COVID-19: Some residents of small B.C. towns threaten to blockade ferry terminal

BC Ferries said in an email to Global News that staff were aware of a “checkpoint” planned for 3 p.m. on Monday, when 32 passengers onboard the Northern Expedition were set to arrive from Prince Rupert.

“Many communities served by BC Ferries have issued advisories to travellers notifying them visitors are not welcome at this time,” the email said, adding that staff have posted signs at the Prince Rupert terminal to that effect.

“The checkpoint was conducted off our property. It’s our understanding it was peaceful.”