With the novel coronavirus pandemic infecting thousands around the world, remote tourist communities are especially at risk. One island is taking no chances and has set up checkpoints all over to turn tourists away. Haida Gwaii is closed to visitors and even the military is helping.
B.C.'s Haida Nation banned all people who don't live there from travelling to the island on Wednesday, March 18. But after BC Ferries started shipping people to their shores recently the community is stepping up their defences.
Now, the nation has checkpoints set up all over their islands, including one at the ferry entry point, according to their statement from Sunday, April 26.
"The purpose of these checkpoints is to provide information to residents of the Haida Gwaii state of emergency and to keep people and their loved ones safe," it reads.
Non-residents are being asked to return to the ferry. If they don't, they'll have "their information recorded and reported to the proper authorities."
Small, remote communities like Haida Gwaii are especially at risk from COVID-19, mostly because they have so few resources and don't have the health supplies to handle an outbreak.
Plus, their population has a lot of elderly people among them, reports CTV News, who are at extra risk.
Jason Allsop, Gaagwiis, President of the Haida Nation, told Narcity that for his people, COVID-19 goes deeper than just a threat.
“It's just really really important to recognize that there is a historical component to this and there's historical trauma, you know, related to the spread of disease and viruses,” he said.
“History of smallpox and other things. So each time there is a ferry or people coming here and aren’t here for essential service or are residents, it’s quite a trigger for a lot of our nation.”
Allsop said that there are usually one or two people who arrive with each ferry ride who aren’t essential travellers. Since there are three sailings a week, it “adds up over time,” he said.
“It's kind of challenging and a bit insulting and disrespectful to have people moving around freely while the people who are from here are stuck at home,” he said.*
BC Ferries told Narcity that they've posted signs and are telling passengers not to travel to Haida Gwaii. "BC Ferries is not authorized to restrict travel," they wrote. Their ferry line is still running to the island.
Meanwhile, the Department of National Defense told Narcity they've sent in five Canadian Rangers on Sunday, April 12, after receiving a request for help.
The rangers have been helping island officials with wellness checks, gathering data on the state of the community as COVID-19 relief efforts, and "delivering critical goods to people in need including groceries and prescription medications."
B.C. officials say the Haida Nation can totally cut off travel if they want to because they're self-governing in an update on Monday, April 27.
"They have the ability and the authority to make those decisions for their communities," they said.
There are travel restrictions in place in the province and even Destination British Columbia is begging people to follow the advice of officials and just stay home for now. You're welcome to explore B.C. later.
*This article has been updated.