While BC Ferries is advising customers to avoid non-essential travel so as to slow the spread of COVID-19, a press release from the company says that it's not been instructed to restrict travel.
"BC Ferries continues to carry all types of traffic," said a press release March 24.
"None of us should be travelling if it is not essential," said Mark Collins, BC Ferries' President and CEO in the release. "We want our customers that need to travel to know that we have taken steps to keep ferry travel as safe as possible."
The news release comes after several small B.C. communities, including islands served by BC Ferries, asked visitors to stay away.
Bowen Island Municipality asked any potential visitors to postpone their visits and any visitors currently on island to return home on March 20. ""Our local businesses and services are scaling down operation to serve our essential needs, in order to protect the personal health and safety of the citizens of our small community," said BIM's press release. "We rely on our small businesses to support our residents, and they do not have the resources to support high volumes of visitors at this difficult time.
The Islands Trust issued a similar plea March 22.
"Most Gulf Islands have a median age of over sixty years old and limited or no medical services. First responders are volunteers who are practicing sheltering in place in order to be available for normal emergencies," said Islands Trust chair Peter Luckham in a press release. "We urge everyone to stay home and avoid discretionary travel to and from the islands.
"As ferry-dependent communities, we are especially vulnerable and face additional challenges. Now is not the time to take a holiday or visit your vacation property," said Luckham.
BC Ferries has suspended some runs on some of its larger routes, including the 'L' run, where one of the Horseshoe Bay-Nanaimo ferries would serve the Langdale route for a couple of trips each day and vice versa, so as to not cross-contaminate crews and communities by switching ships. The planned extra sailings over Easter on the larger routes have been cancelled (there were never extra runs planned to Bowen).
The BC Ferries press release also noted the increased cleaning measures, recommending passengers stay in their vehicles, closure of overhead walkways, closure of food services, requiring electronic payment and putting in measures to separate employees from customers during necessary interactions (like at ticket booths).
"Our front line co-workers face the COVID-19 virus everyday so that critical supplies like groceries and medical supplies and people reach coastal communities," said Collins in the press release. "We are incredibly proud of our loyal and dedicated colleagues."
––With files from Sean Eckford/Coast Reporter