‘Today is not that time;’ Southern Gulf Island leaders feel ‘surge’ of visitors threatening communities

'Today is not that time;' Southern Gulf Island leaders feel 'surge' of visitors threatening communities
(Galiano Island Tourism / Instagram)
View of a sunset from Galiano Island - one of the many island communities feeling threatened by visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last few weeks have brought about staggering changes to our everyday lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As more day-to-day operations are shutdown and people are urged to isolate, there has been a “surge of visitors” to the Southern Gulf Islands with people seeking refuge, according to Island electoral leaders. The collective group of leaders is now fearing that this is potential threatening their fragile communities.

In a press release issued from the Electoral Area Directors, they said increased visitors “are potentially compromising the health and well-being of Gulf Islands residents on Galiano, Mayne, Pender, Salt Spring, Saturna islands, plus many smaller islands in this region. These rural island communities do not have the appropriate services and emergency resources to deal with an extra 100, 200 or 300 more people.”

The big fear from leaders is mostly that off-island visitors don’t know if they’ve been exposed to the virus.

“Today our Islands need to focus on the needs of residents,” said Gary Holman, Salt Spring Island Electoral Area Director. “We need our Gulf Islands precious medical resources for our most vulnerable, especially for those who are immune compromised.”

The collection of islands that make up the district is typically a popular summer destination for people to escape the bustle of bigger communities. Boasting an incredible array of natural resources spanning from the Pacific Ocean to coastal forests to copious amounts of wildlife, the Southern Gulf Islands normally extend open arms to visitors, but as a result of COVID-19 have issued a firm statement instead.

“Today is not that time.”

Dave Howe, Southern Gulf Islands Electoral Area Director, representing Galiano, Mayne, Pender, and Saturna Islands, is urging current visitors, who have sought shelter on the islands, 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,” said Howe in the release.

The Southern Gulf Island leaders point to limited emergency responders that are mostly volunteer as well as limited access to medical support and grocery supply chains as being key reasons for their concerns.

On top of those key concerns, the electoral leaders said there is limited ability to protect fragile water sources, on and off island transportation and limited access to support services like fire and safety.

The plea from the Southern Gulf Islands isn’t the first issued by summer vacation destinations. Last week, Tofino, Ucluelet and Quadra Island all banned guests from visiting for the indefinite future in an attempt to protect themselves from a deadly outbreak.

Graham CoxGraham Cox

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