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‘We’re devastated’: Whistler reeling amid ski resort closure, rise in P1 COVID-19 variant

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The mayor of Whistler, B.C. says the community is in a state of shock after the province announced the temporary closure of the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort amid new COVID-19 restrictions.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said attempts to reduce COVID-19 transmission in the ski community aren’t working and Whistler Blackcomb will be shut down until April 19.

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“It’s shocking, for sure, though I think it is something that we have known was a possibility since the November spike that we saw and the January spike that we saw,” Mayor Jack Crompton said.

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“It’s something that I’ve discussed as a potential — that we could see skiing closed — and now we are. It’s challenging.”

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Whistler was a COVID-19 hot spot earlier this year, recording nearly 300 cases in January. Transmission mostly occurred in shared household settings among young adults.

“We’re starting to see cases increase again in that community and particularly in the past week with the more worrisome cluster of the P1 Brazil variant of concern,” Henry said.

“We’ve also seen transmission from travel to and from other communities across B.C. from the Whistler area.”

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Henry noted WorkSafeBC recently conducted inspections in Whistler.

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“We found that it was very challenging for staff to manage groups of people later in the evening and that was what was leading to transmission,” Henry said.

“Often people live together in common, crowded housing — some of the staff accommodations in Whistler, for example — but we’re seeing that in places all around the province and mostly in the urban areas.”

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In a statement, Whistler Blackcomb said:

“Throughout the season, Whistler Blackcomb has prioritized the health and safety of our guests and employees. Today’s order from the Province of British Columbia to close Whistler Blackcomb came as a surprise and we respect the decision and are taking immediate steps to comply.”

Earlier this month, workers living in congregate staff housing received the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. On Monday, B.C. joined other jurisdictions in Canada in pausing the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in people under the age of 55 over concerns about blood clots.

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Crompton said the resort municipality is saddened by the news of the closure, but it needs to remain vigilant about the rise in cases linked to the variant first identified in Brazil.

“We’re sad, we’re devastated,” he said. “This announcement means a lot of things for us, but certainly it means that the level of attention needs to continue to be high. We need to continue to take the action we’ve been taking, which is a big ask.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Some Whistler workers to receive COVID-19 vaccine

The province reminded British Columbians that travel is limited to essential travel only — for work or medical reasons.

There were substantial lineups spotted near Whistler Blackcomb on Monday, a sight that may not be seen for a while.

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“We are a tourism town,” Crompton said. “We exist to be able to welcome people here from around British Columbia and around the world. To not be able to do that has been devastating for the last year and it’s going to be even tougher for the next three weeks.”

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