Wednesday, July 29, 2020

In Legislature statements, MLA Rice speaks to COVID-19 on Haida Gwaii, tourism concerns across North Coast

A call for responsible tourism was the theme for North Coast MLA
Jennifer Rice on Monday as she participated remotely in the
Monday morning session

Two topics of much discussion on the North Coast and Haida Gwaii made their way to the British Columbia legislature this week.

That as North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice updated the Legislature members on the recent reports of COVID-19 on Haida Gwaii, as well as to explore some of the concerns heard recently over tourism across Northern BC.

Her commentaries came on Monday and Tuesday, with Ms. Rice participating remotely in the sessions,  making use of her allotted time to explore the twin themes of current note on the North Coast.

Monday the North Coast MLA relayed her thoughts towards the need for responsible tourism:

"British Columbians worked hard, made sacrifices, and followed the advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry, and that's what's allowed us to begin phase 3 of our B.C. Restart Plan. We are now very fortunate to be in a position for British Columbians to safely and respectfully travel around our beautiful province. 

But COVID-19 has changed all of our lives, from the social interaction we have to the way we move. We are at a time of the year when British Columbians are usually taking a vacation to go on an adventure, whether it be a road trip to an unknown part of the province or country, or a flight to a remote and exotic part of the world. 

This year is different. The pandemic has made travel a more hazardous affair and international travel simply unthinkable. Due to international travel restrictions, families from across the province are taking this opportunity to explore the hidden gems of B.C. "

Towards some of the concerns that Ms. Rice notes are those from remote communities and the need to respect the wishes of those who live in the destinations that visitors may wish to explore.

"I want to use my time today to call on all British Columbians, and, really, all Canadians, to be responsible when it comes to travelling in the province. While the province is already in phase 3 of our restart plan and travel within the province is encouraged, that doesn't come without risks, both for the tourists and the host communities.

Before you decide to start up a trip in the province, I ask everyone to please plan ahead and do your research. Follow the local and provincial health guidelines to keep yourself and your host community safe. First and foremost, check if the community you are visiting is accepting travellers, and be respectful of any restrictions." 

Ms. Rice also provided some thoughts on past history and her often stated themes towards reconciliation in her commentary in the Monday morning session.

"Many communities are nervous about the entry of the virus into their community, with good reason. Epidemics have a long and dark history in our province and our country. We can't forget that upwards of 90 percent of the continent's Indigenous population was wiped out as a result of different diseases introduced by Europeans. 

The distrust of these communities is further enhanced by centuries of neglect by our government, our school system and our health services. In the spirit of reconciliation and in the spirit of respect, we need to embrace the needs of local communities, both First Nations and settler. 

If they are not accepting visitors or if they impose local restrictions, please respect these. 

It's not the law, but it's common decency."

To bring her presentation to a close, she called on the words of the province's Public Health Officer Doctor Bonnie Henry and also relayed a list of personal measures for visitors to take as they travel the province.

As well the MLA took note of the concerns on Haida Gwaii as well as the Central coast observing on the local measures that have been put in place.

"Tourism has been a particularly hot issue in my riding. My constituency is home to some of the most remote communities in B.C., places with few health services and a high occurrence of conditions that increase the rate of COVID-19 mortality. This has prompted some communities, like Haida Gwaii, Bella Bella and Bella Coola, to put in local travel restrictions. 

While these restrictions are putting a heavy toll on local tourism businesses and forcing many British Columbians to change their travel plans, we need to remember these restrictions are put in place with the best interest of the entire community in mind. 

 On the flip side, I want to ask people from across the province to be kind and respectful to travellers. On a daily basis, I get calls from constituents worried about the influx of tourists from across the province and from other provinces. Please remember that as long as tourists are following the provincial health guidelines, they are not necessarily a threat to you or the community."

Her full presentation from the Monday session can be reviewed here, and viewed through the Legislature Video Archive for Monday starting at the 10:52 AM mark.

On Tuesday, Ms. Rice spoke to the current community outbreak of COVID on Haida Gwaii, which to date lists fourteen residents as in self isolation after coming in contact with the coronavirus.

In her statement to the Legislature see above, Ms. Rice explored the need to remain vigilant on the advice health professionals have provided to the public, some of her themes included:

Last week Northern Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak on Haida Gwaii. 

As expected, this has flared up tensions that have been building in the region since the start of the pandemic. It is believed that all of the cases are either residents who had recently travelled off-island or had exposure to other residents who had recently travelled off-island. 

All of the active cases are self-isolating at home, and clear processes are in place for identifying and informing close contacts so they can take appropriate precautions. 

 A learning for us in the north coast is that the virus can hit any community at any time, even despite valiant efforts to protect communities. This is why it's important that we always act as if the virus is in our community. 

Keep within your bubble. Keep physical distance. Avoid crowded places. Wear a mask when you can't. And wash your hands frequently. "

Ms. Rice also reviewed some of the commentary of concern of late over travellers into the North Coast area, making note for the Legislature of some of the feedback she has received in recent weeks as the Restart BC program began to move forward.

"Another learning is that we need to stop fearing the other. I get calls on a daily basis from people worried about tourists from other provinces and countries visiting our communities. 

The worry is that these outsiders will bring the virus into the community, but what the recent outbreaks tell us is that disregarding health advice is our biggest threat, not outsiders. 

We need to remember that. 

While international borders are closed, there are people from the United States and other provinces who live and work in our communities, that have kept their home license plates on their vehicles for one reason or another. 

If you see a license plate from a different jurisdiction, be kind. Don't immediately assume that they are not allowed to be in town and are not following public health guidelines. 

 If we don't follow the advice of public health experts, no amount of restrictions to travel will stop local outbreaks. Let's not let fear get in the way of public health. 

As Dr. Bonnie Henry says: "Be kind, be calm, and be safe."

Further notes on the provincial measures and updates on the COVID-19 situation can be reviewed from our archive page.

For more notes related to he work in the constituency as well as the British Columbia Legislature see our archive page here.

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