Multiple BC Ferries sailings have reached maximum allowed passenger capacity or come close on Friday, despite health officials’ constant pleas for people to stay at home this long weekend.
Based on tweets from the crown corporation, the 12:45 p.m. sailing from Tsawwassen (Vancouver) to Duke Point (Nanaimo) on Friday had reached max capacity.
The 9:30 a.m. sailing from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay (Victoria) reached 80 per cent capacity, and based on the latest information from the BC Ferries website, the 5 p.m. sailing on the same route is currently 74 per cent full.
Standard vehicle capacity is at 100 per cent on the 5 p.m. vessel from Vancouver to Victoria, and is also currently full on all sailings from Vancouver to Nanaimo (Duke Point) until the final vessel scheduled to depart at 10:45 p.m.
BC Ferries is currently operating at 50 per cent capacity in keeping with Transport Canada regulations. Regardless, non-essential passengers using the ferries for leisure travel have sparked fears of transmission in smaller communities.
Multiple reports and photos uploaded to social media suggest people are packing up their motor homes and camping gear and heading to remote destinations like Galiano Island and Pender Island.
These reports are met with concern by locals who fear COVID-19 transmission in small communities with few health care resources to meet the needs of an outbreak, should it occur.
Throughout this week B.C.’s top health officials, Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix, have been imploring people to stay home during this upcoming long weekend, not travel to their vacation homes, and avoid unnecessary travel altogether.
“Let us be clear: Staying home means no travelling – especially across our borders. Instead, we encourage everyone to find ways to connect virtually this long weekend, including by video chat or with phone calls,” reads a joint statement from B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
Despite these calls and concerns, BC Ferries sailings to Vancouver Island and the Southern Gulf Islands have been packed both Thursday and Friday with passengers and vehicles, many of which sport out-of-province license plates.
When fears of transmission and the directive to avoid all non-essential travel was brought up with BC Ferries, the company clarified that they do not have the ability to enforce the rule.
“We are asking all not to travel unless absolutely essential, however we do not have the authority to restrict travel in this regard. Any strict enforcement based on reason for travel will need to come from the provincial government directly,” reads a statement from the crown corporation.
Earlier this week, Transport Canada issued guidelines prohibiting non essential travel on all commercial marine vessels that can carry 12 or more passengers. However, there is currently no mechanism in place to enforce this ban.
“The new temporary Transport Canada regulations say we can carry 50 per cent of the normal maximum passenger license limits. We are following in accordance with these new regulations,” said BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall.
“For example, a Spirit Class vessel is usually licensed to carry 2100 passengers and crew, so now the maximum would be 1050 passengers and crew. Yesterday for example, the highest passenger count on a Spirit Class was 408 passengers on the 5 pm sailing from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen (39 per cent of new limit).”
BC Ferries has been authorized to screen passengers for COVID-19 by asking them four questions before they are allowed to board.
The BCCDC has set up a 2019 novel coronavirus telephone information line at 1-833-784-4397 for those who have further questions about this disease.
Anyone concerned that they may have been exposed to, or are experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus, should contact their primary care provider, local public health office, or call 8-1-1.
The Province has also created the 1-888-COVID-19 line to connect British Columbians needing non-medical information about the coronavirus pandemic.
As of the time of publication, the total number of COVID-19 patients worldwide has risen to 1,666,997.
Over 100,400 people have died from the illness and 370,001 have made a full recovery.