Elected officials from across the Gulf Islands and Howe Sound Islands issued a plea on March 23 for people to stay away from the Islands Trust area to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and to reduce pressure on limited island services.
“Now is not the time to be visiting the islands,” said Peter Luckham, chair of Islands Trust Council, in a news statement. “Most Gulf Islands have a median age of over 60 years old and limited or no medical services. First responders are volunteers who are practising sheltering in place in order to be available for normal emergencies. 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.”
The issue of potentially large groups of tourists coming to the islands was highlighted on Friday when island resident Sheralin Cook observed approximately 30 people at the Salt Spring Golf Course, made inquiries about why that was happening and publicized the situation via Facebook. While the course’s clubhouse was closed, people had been able to play golf using the honour system. The course has since been closed.
Electoral area directors for the Capital Regional District also recognized the potential risk to rural island communities from visitors in a joint statement the following day.
“Today our islands need to focus on the needs of residents,” said Salt Spring director Gary Holman. “We need our Gulf Islands’ precious medical resources for our most vulnerable, especially for those who are immune compromised.”
Dave Howe, director for the Southern Gulf Islands, asked current visitors to make plans to return to their permanent homes.
“You don’t know if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19. I urge you to stay home, and by doing so, protect yourself, your family and our island’s unique culture and way of life. Follow the government’s advisory — stay home and do not travel unless absolutely necessary,” Howe said.
The Southern Gulf Islands Tourism Partnership and the Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce have also since issued statements advising people to not visit the islands, and BC Ferries has also requested that all non-essential travel be curtailed.
Island trustees have additionally encouraged people who are already visiting island properties from private boats to return to their primary residences to reduce the need for medical evacuations.
“On behalf of all British Columbians, the Islands Trust works to preserve and protect over 450 islands in the Salish Sea,” Luckham said. “We now ask British Columbians to protect islanders and yourselves by staying home. We look forward to welcoming visitors again when it is safe to do so.”