Some Vancouver Island businesses shutting down voluntarily to slow the spread of COVID-19

Some Vancouver Island businesses shutting down voluntarily to slow the spread of COVID-19

An iconic Tofino hotel remains voluntarily closed as COVID-19 spreads across Vancouver Island, despite tourists flocking to the remote seaside town.

Perched over the surf of Tofino’s Chesterman Beach, the family-owned Wickaninnish Inn is standing out from the crowd in order to protect the community, according to its managing director, Charles McDiarmid.

It’s a financial hit, to be sure, but McDiarmid says profit is not a priority right now.

“In terms of revenue, it would be a few million dollars, and that’s a hit, but the first priority is to keep our staff safe and keep our community safe,” he said.

The Inn closed in November 2020 as cases of COVID-19 began soaring in the second wave. It has remained closed, even as other hotels have filled up.

McDiarmid said seeing an influx of tourists from mainland B.C. was “a little disconcerting” for community members.

“It’s no secret, the more people travel, the more people move about, the more transmissions will naturally increase.”

But it’s not just the hotel operator shutting down. A business off the east coast of Vancouver Island has followed suit.

Gail Noonan, owner of Books on Mayne, a bookstore on Mayne Island, said she decided to close her shop’s doors too after repeated encounters with tourists who said they’d never visited the Southern Gulf Island before.

“And I just think, ‘why are you here?’” said Noonan. “And why am I being complicit in showing you all the wonderful places to explore when it’s not a good time to explore the island? And that’s when I realize, you know, I can make the decision myself. It’s my store. I can decide to close the doors.”

Books on Mayne is remaining closed until April 20.

Businesses deciding to close on their own accord are the exception rather than the norm, according to the Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce.

But remote communities have added pressures, especially unvaccinated ones, since COVID-19 can quickly overwhelm small health facilities, said Kim Smythe, chamber president.

“There’s an argument there for any of the resort municipalities to be thinking about where they are going to go from there,” she said.

Community-wide vaccinations have either taken place in some remote communities, or are scheduled for areas like Tofino and Ucluelet later this month.

The Wickaninnish Inn hopes to reopen in mid-May if the vaccinations go well, but management says that’s always subject to change.

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Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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