It appears some tourists are so desperate to see the icebergs around Bonavista they’re lying about their reasons for taking the ferry to Newfoundland, and are frustrating local residents worried about COVID-19 infection.
Residents in the coastal Newfoundland town — an annual draw for iceberg hunters — are frustrated by the people they say have started showing up in the area, despite public health orders restricting non-essential travel.
“We don’t even have our family come to our house and we can’t go to their house,” said Janice Butler, who owns By the Sea Tourist Home in Bonavista.
Butler said it doesn’t make sense that people who live in the province are not allowed to associate with their families yet people from other jurisdictions are coming in.
If you come from away, you best stay away.– John Haggie
“My daughter and granddaughter go for a walk, I gotta walk on the other side of the road … How can you allow people to come into our province from other provinces and other countries, and they’re saying there’s a pandemic on the go and people are dying from it?”
Better safe than sorry
A number of special measures are in effect under Newfoundland and Labrador’s public health emergency to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus — like physical distancing and discouraging non-essential travel — that are also in place across Canada.
Anyone who must travel to the province is supposed to isolate for 14 days upon arrival, and as of this week, sign a declaration and provide a plan to that effect.
“I think the tourism season for 2020 should be shut down,” even though it’s their livelihood, said Butler.
“I would still rather see it shut down and not end up being sad down the road than have it open.”
Her business in the popular tourist destination is closed for May and taking it month by month, like other operators.
Bonavista Mayor John Norman agreed, saying the issue of people driving to the island is “causing a bit of concern” and needs clear direction from government.
“I met a couple from Nova Scotia. I also met a couple from Quebec. I’ve seen some of the American licence plates — I have yet to speak to any of them in person but we do see them around and we see them going to the drive-thru that’s still operational, we see them going to the coffee shops, as well as some of the local grocery stores,” Norman said.
“We have no listed cases within our subregion right now and we’d like to keep it that way.”
Cracking down on tourists
When asked about the issue at the daily COVID-19 government briefing Tuesday afternoon, Health Minister John Haggie said they’re looking at how to further tighten travel restrictions.
“If you come from away, you best stay away,” he said.
“The assumption had been that people who were coming were actually going to play by the rules. The fact that they haven’t, or the allegations that they haven’t, are the subject of reports to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.”
Haggie said the provincial ferry system has “been very strict” about only allowing essential travel, but Marine Atlantic, which operates the ferry service between Port aux Basques and North Sydney, “works in a different way.”
The health minister said the evidence is clear that strict border controls are important as a way of controlling the spread of COVID-19.
He said what qualifies as essential travel is not defined, because that wouldn’t allow flexibility for something like family members coming home for bereavement, for example, but clearly that needs “tightening up” to make sense yet not be overly prohibitive.