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West coast First Nations communities restrict access amid outbreak

The COVID-19 outbreak has prompted two First Nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island to restrict access to their communities.
Highway 4 at Sutton Pass, photo
Highway 4 at Sutton Pass, image from a Drive B.C. webcam on Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak has prompted two First Nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island to restrict access to their communities.

To block the spread of the virus, the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht peoples are blocking entry into their communities to all but their own members and essential and emergency traffic until further notice.

“We’re no different than anyone else,” Moses Martin, elected chief of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation said by phone on Tuesday. “We’re all concerned about [COVID-19] in our communities.”

Some Tla-o-qui-aht communities, such as Opitsaht, are located on Meares Island, accessible only by boat. But others are on Vancouver Island and regularly attract tourists.

Martin said the Tla-o-qui-aht housing development of Esowista, inside Long Beach National Park, is now off limits to all but locals, essential and emergency services.

Also, the Ahousaht First Nation has declared its village of Maaqtusis off limits to all but its own members and essential services. The village is on Flores Island and is reached via a 30-minute boat ride from Tofino.

On its website, the Ahousaht First Nation also called a temporary halt to sports and cultural gatherings and asked for community volunteers to shop for seniors living in Maaqtusis.

Meanwhile, about five Tla-o-qui-aht people briefly staged an information blockade on Highway 4 Tuesday to discuss COVID-19 with travellers headed to the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The five people set up at Sutton Pass, about halfway from Port Alberni to the junction where the road divides off to Ucluelet and Tofino.

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Chris Manseau said officers responded and made contact at 11 a.m. and persuaded those at the information blockade to take it down.

No westbound travellers were denied travel, but some drivers turned around voluntarily.

Manseau said the best way to mitigate risks is for communities to follow directions of provincial public-health authorities, adding nobody should put themselves or the motoring public at risk by obstructing traffic.