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Rural B.C. communities fear COVID-19 spread as Easter travel warning ignored

Despite repeated pleas to British Columbians not to travel over the Easter weekend, some residents of the province’s rural and remote communities say people aren’t getting the message.

While BC Ferries said traffic was down about 50 per cent on major routes, it also added extra sailings. Many passengers Global News spoke with were using the weekend for a brief getaway.

On Vancouver Island, this prompted concerns that travellers could spread COVID-19, and surging variants of concern from Lower Mainland hotspots to communities that have been spared the worst of the pandemic.

Read more:
‘Just don’t go’: B.C. renews plea against leisure travel over Easter long weekend

Ucluelet Mayor Mayco Noel said there was an obvious increase in traffic to his community, worrying locals.

“We are a very small town of 2,000 people. We are not going to be policing these rules and responsibilities, it’s been very, very clear for the last 12 months what people are supposed to do.”

Click to play video: Health officials warn against long-weekend travel in order to halt B.C.’s third wave

“When it is appropriate and when Dr. Henry permits it, we would say come back and visit.”

The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, whose territory lies on the west side of Vancouver Island, went as far as to set up informational “roadblocks” telling visitors that this was not the time to visit.

READ MORE: B.C. reports 832 new COVID-19 cases, five more deaths

Mariah Charleson, vice-president of the Nuu-chach-nulth Tribal Council and member of the Hesquiaht First Nation, said the province’s travel advisory doesn’t have enough teeth.

“It’s hugely disheartening, and its alarming, particularly because we know that we are still in Phase 2, which means that non essential travel is banned,” she said.

“Well — we’re not seeing an order, it’s being ‘advised’ and ‘recommended.’”

Click to play video: ‘You should not travel unless it is necessary’ Dr. Bonnie Henry on reinforcing COVID restrictions

Charleson said Indigenous peoples across the province have consistently had to take matters into their own hands and implement closures and roadblocks to try and stop the spread of the virus.

She said she wants to see a Vancouver Island “bubble” similar to what’s in place in the Maritimes, that requires visitors to the island to isolate for 14 days.

READ MORE: Making Easter plans? Here’s what happened to COVID-19 cases after past holidays

“We have very low capacity to handle an outbreak,” Charleson said.

“We think of the communities that rely on (Tofino’s) tiny hospital that has 10 beds, if COVID-19 were to impact that small community it would have a devastating impact.”

The province has repeatedly urged people to stay close to home and use the parks and green spaces in their own community over the long weekend.

Residents are being told that if a proposed trip involves an overnight stay, it should be avoided unless absolutely essential.

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