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Coronavirus: B.C. premier not sorry for closing Haida Gwaii weeks after reopening it

Click to play video 'Haida Gwaii fishing lodges unhappy with closures' Haida Gwaii fishing lodges unhappy with closures
After putting in protocols designed to protect guests, staff and the people of Haida Gwaii from coronavirus exposure, the operators of fly-in fishing lodges on the islands say the closure to all non-essential visitors is unnecessary and will badly their economic fortunes. Catherine Urquhart reports

B.C. Premier John Horgan says he is not going to apologize for allowing tourism operators on Haida Gwaii to reopen under Phase 3 of the pandemic recovery plan, only to close them again after an outbreak of COVID-19.

The province lifted a ban on non-essential travel within B.C. on June 24, but reinstated it in the popular tourist area on July 30 after 20 cases of the virus were reported. There were 26 cases as of Friday.

Read more: Coronavirus: B.C. bans non-resident and non-essential travel to Haida Gwaii

Lodges and tourism operators who had clients booked for the summer were forced to close and issue refunds.

This week, Premier John Horgan was asked at a news conference whether he would apologize to the operators after they lost millions in business in an already strained economy.

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Click to play video 'B.C. premier on closure of Haida Gwaii fishing lodges because of COVID-19 outbreak' B.C. premier on closure of Haida Gwaii fishing lodges because of COVID-19 outbreak
B.C. premier on closure of Haida Gwaii fishing lodges because of COVID-19 outbreak

“A month ago, there were no cases in Haida Gwaii. Now, there are,” Horgan said Thursday.

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He said he understands their concerns and “discussions will take place,” but public health and safety is the priority.

“I’m not going to be apologetic about that.”

Click to play video 'Haida Gwaii non-essential travel ban forces fishing lodges to close' Haida Gwaii non-essential travel ban forces fishing lodges to close
Haida Gwaii non-essential travel ban forces fishing lodges to close

Brian Clive, vice-president of sales with Queen Charlotte Lodge, told Global News that staff had been following public health protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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“We haven’t fully comprehended what the premier was trying to do,” Clive said.

“We do know he has cloaked it in ‘trying to provide safety for the community of Haida Gwaii,’ which he and our company would agree on that. We went to great lengths to provide that very safety, that very distance that was required to keep the communities in Haida Gwaii 100-per-cent safe.”

Click to play video 'Haida Gwaii fishing lodges under fire for reopening' Haida Gwaii fishing lodges under fire for reopening
Haida Gwaii fishing lodges under fire for reopening

Clive said the business wants to talk to the province about compensation after an “arbitrary” and “unfair” process.

“Our season is very expensive to set up and it’s very expensive to shut down,” he said. “And when your season is only five trips or three weeks, at the end of the day, you can imagine that, coupled with the cash flow issues with respect to refunds to our clients, it’s a massive hit.

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Read more: Haida Gwaii non-essential travel ban forces fishing lodges to close

“It’s one we will be able to sustain, but it will be years before we get back to step one, based on the current events.”

Officials have said it will be a few more weeks until they can determine if the outbreak is under control.