Staff at the information checkpoint have confirmed a significant decrease in traffic since it began on March 25. Located at the bottom of the hill, the checkpoint is operating 24 hours a day and is staffed by members of the Coastal Guardian Watchmen and the Nuxalk Fire Department.
“There has definitely been a decrease in traffic since the checkpoint was set up,” said Site Manager Ernie Tallio. “Right now there is a average of about nine vehicles through the checkpoint, and the response from people has been mostly very positive.”
Tallio said that at the beginning of the checkpoint they were still seeing tourists and people seeking refuge, but that has now almost completely ceased.
“At the beginning our checkpoint we saw a lot of contractors, sport fishers and as time went on we saw people from other large towns try to come here to seek refuge but they left as they saw this place was not open to visitors,” said Tallio. “There has been a lot of local traffic, people wood cutting, going to east branch, etc., and of course our essential traffic, that being freight, fuel and mail.”
It has been a challenging situation for many coastal and remote communities to keep travellers and visitors out in an effort to keep COVID-19 from entering the community. On April 6 more than a dozen community leaders issued a letter to provincial and federal leaders asking for more measures to protect their communities from an influx of people.
In Bella Bella, Heiltsuk councillor Jessie Housty has reported that recreational boaters continue to trickle in daily to Bella Bella to load up on food and fuel. She says this could have been avoided had local emergency measures not been rescinded. “We’ve been lobbying the Coast Guard to announce over their radio channels that small communities are not taking traffic,” she said.
In Haida Gwaii the situation is similar. The Skidegate Band Council and the Old Massett Village Council have also set up checkpoints in an attempt to restrict travel. On April 12, the Skidegate Band Council Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) announced that a part-time Sandspit resident has been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The EOC said the part-time resident may have also subsequently been in contact with Skidegate band members and the public.
The information checkpoint is distributing information on the COVID-19 pandemic and how it relates to Bella Coola including messaging from hereditary leaders and administration, as well as protocols around self-quarantine, self-isolation, social distancing and what to do if you present symptoms. Locals are still strongly discouraged from travelling out of the valley unless it is essential.
“People have been mostly understanding, especially after reviewing the information given to them by our checkpoint workers,” said Tallio. Local RCMP have also been very supportive of the information checkpoint.
Many residents want to see the highway closed completely to non-essential travel, but enforcing it is another matter. It’s a wish echoed by other levels of government such as the Central Coast Regional District, the hospital, the Nuxalk Administration, and the Hereditary Chiefs.
However, MLA Jennifer Rice said there are currently no plans to close the road, stating “our internal transportation network is critical for supply chains of food, goods, and medicine that keep people in communities in all corners of BC safe.”