Tourism may proceed in the Valley under strict conditions and only for B.C. residents (Scott Carrier photo)

Bella Coola tourism to re-open with strict COVID-19 guidelines

Visitors are limited to B.C. residents, they must wear a mask in public and avoid community members

Bella Coola Valley tourism operators are hopeful that new guidelines announced today by the Nuxalk Nation Emergency Operations Centre and Nuxalk Leadership, in coordination with the Bella Coola Valley Tourism Association, will salvage some of what is left of the 2020 season.

The announcement came jointly from the Nuxalk EOC and BCVT on Tuesday (July 21) that the community would be ready to accept B.C. residents only. Strict protocols have been agreed upon by Nuxalk Chief and Council and hereditary leadership, the Nuxalk EOC and BCVT. BCVT has commited to following the protocols, and their guests are expected to follow them when visiting the community.

“As President of BCVT I want to thank the Nuxalk leadership for welcoming B.C .visitors back into the valley and for allowing the tourism membership to resume our businesses,” said BCVT President Tom Hermance. “The visitor correspondence has been really understanding of our situation and cooperative with our COVID precautions (i.e. avoid all public places and wear masks during any interactions). Fortunately, visitors come here to enjoy the remote wilderness so you may not notice much of a difference downtown.”

It continues to be a difficult time for tourism operators in the Valley as many faced 100 percent cancellations and the ongoing threat of COVID-19. B.C. premier John Horgan and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced June 24 that B.C. was ready to move to interprovincial travel, but not all communities were ready to accept visitors, any many still aren’t. Shearwater Resort, located near Bella Bella, recently withdrew its planned opening date and cancelled its 2020 season. Haida Gwaii continues to reject visitors, and this has resulted in clashes between Haida members and tourism operators in the area.

Visitors to Bella Coola are to follow a set of strict guidelines including physical distancing, wearing masks, limiting their interaction with the public and avoiding public settings. Their hosts are expected to record their contact information and have them confirm they are not ill before booking.

“Nuxalk leadership made the decision to re-open with recommendations from the EOC. Since May, the EOC, Nuxalk leadership and BCVT have been working together on safety plans and a process for gradual re-opening as well as process for closing again if needed,” said Nuxalk-CCRD Joint Emergency Management Coordinator Jessica Miller. “All visitors to the community are asked to respect the safety protocols. We must all continue to not travel when sick, to be careful who we visit with, and to keep our social bubble small. It’s important to note that this is not a relaxation of the rules; we are being extremely careful and will continue to monitor the situation. The checkpoint will continue to play an important role in this monitoring.

“We expect that visitors, and residents returning from travel outside the valley, follow these guidelines. If they are not being observed we will not hesitate to close.”

At press time COVID-19 cases were once again on the rise, but Dr. Bonnie Henry attributed this uptick to unsafe social interactions (private parties and larger gatherings) where social distancing was not being observed. The majority of cases were young people in their 20s and 30s.

Both Horgan and Liberal opposition leader Andrew Wilkinson indicated there is little hope for any easing of international travel in 2020, with a 14-day isolation rule in effect for people entering or returning from the U.S. and elsewhere. Health officials in B.C. say they’re pleased the Canada-U.S. border will remain closed to non-essential travel until August 21.

“I would like to recognize and thank everyone involved in the collaborative effort to find a way to safely open the Bella Coola valley for visitors from within B.C.,” said North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice. “This summer, anyone traveling within the province needs to be very mindful of the impacts they may have on communities they’re visiting, and be a responsible traveler. This includes researching the community you intend to visit before you go, and observing the rules of physical distancing, hand-washing, staying home if you’re sick, and wearing a mask where appropriate. We all need to follow these rules, and ensure that any guests that we may be hosting or in contact with know that they must do the same.

“Even as more communities and aspects of normal life open up, this is the time to keep up the pressure on flattening the curve. The re-opening of the valley to non-residents is contingent on everyone—residents and visitors alike—doing their part to keep others safe and the community COVID-free. Thank you to all residents of the valley for your patience with each other in this anxious and uncertain time. Thank you for continuing to look out for your families, your neighbours, and your communities. Let’s continue to be calm, be kind, and be safe.”

BCVT members will also be helping to staff the Information Checkpoint as the valley slowly moves to re-opening. As of July 1, the checkpoint stopped issuing travel permits but is still requiring that those who enter the valley provide their contact information, which can be used as a tool to help trace information if a case of COVID-19 is found in the community.

“BCVT businesses have all stepped up to new COVID WorkSafeBC guidelines and are prepared to safely reopen,” said Hermance. “No one wants the virus here and we’re working closely with the EOC to keep it out.”

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