The Council of the Haida Nation is asking non-residents of Haida Gwaii to avoid travel to the islands amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a release last Wednesday, the CHN said it was discouraging all non-resident travel to the islands “for the time being.”
“This decision was made after careful consideration and discussion with village councils and municipalities, and will not impact essential services to island citizens or those returning home,” the release said.
“Given our culture, remote geography and limited health-care resources, we have made this critical decision to protect island citizens, and especially our cherished elders, language speakers and knowledge holders.”
The CHN travel advisory was announced the same day Haida Gwaii physicians released a joint statement, urging islanders to take precautions against the spread of COVID-19.
“If we let the virus spread the way it has in other places, we would expect well over 400 people here to be sick enough to need to be in hospital,” the physicians said.
To help prevent the disease from overwhelming the islands’ medical resources, the physicians said “the most important thing you can do is stay at home and limit visitors.”
However, Old Massett resident Raven Ann Potschka said some tourists have not been heeding the advisory.
Potschka operates the Ladybird Boutique and said she was surprised to see people from Vancouver browsing last week.
“That was my first, initial shock,” she said, adding that she later ran into people from Prince Rupert at a local food truck. “It’s not really appropriate for people to be doing pleasure-travelling when there’s an international pandemic. It’s really disrespectful and selfish.”
Air Canada flights from Vancouver to Skidegate will temporarily cease on March 23 and Pacific Coastal Airlines flights from Vancouver to Masset will do the same March 24, however, BC Ferries service is operating as scheduled.
BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said staff announced the CHN travel advisory on the ferry arriving in Skidegate on March 19 and posted it at the terminal, as well as at the terminal in Prince Rupert.
While Marshall said one passenger aboard the March 19 sailing decided to deboard and reboard the ferry to travel back to Prince Rupert, BC Ferries hasn’t been asked to restrict travel to the islands.
“At this point we’re contracted to provide ferry service by the provincial government and we are following their recommendation,” she said on Friday.
Potschka said there needs to be more pressure on people to take the pandemic and the CHN travel advisory seriously.
“Jennifer Rice has to say that there is a travel ban,” she said, speaking of the North Coast MLA. “People just need to go home.”
When contacted by the Observer about the possibility of a travel ban, Rice said the CHN advisory to non-residents to avoid travel to Haida Gwaii should be taken “very seriously.”
“All levels of government have been clear that staying home, practicing physical distancing and self-isolating if required are important parts of what will keep our communities safe through this situation, and that is exactly what we should all be doing,” Rice said. “Indigenous communities, particularly in remote areas, face unique circumstances with regard to the spread of COVID-19.”
Rice added that her team is working with the Ministry of Health, the First Nations Health Authority, Emergency Management BC and Indigenous Services Canada to identify needs and gaps, to ensure Indigenous communities are supported in managing any outbreaks that may occur.