Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth issued an order Thursday under B.C.’s state of emergency restricting non-resident and non-essential visits to the islands.
“The Province, Northern Health and the First Nations Health Authority are working closely with the Haida Nation and local governments on Haida Gwaii to respond to this COVID-19 outbreak,” said Farnworth in a media release.
“Our foremost concern is the health and safety of all residents of Haida Gwaii, and we’re working together to limit further spread of COVID-19.”
In a statement, the Haida Nation called the pandemic a “test of reconciliation,” and said it was pleased the province was taking steps to support the First Nation’s response.
“B.C.’s order is an important step towards a renewed partnership in emergency management,” said Haida Nation President Jason Alsop.
“The province’s work to enact an order that aligns with the Haida Nation’s State of Emergency is a respectful act and recognition of Haida jurisdiction and our responsibility as governments to work together to protect all communities and residents of Haida Gwaii from the threat of COVID-19.”
The nation has particular concerns about the virus due to limited medical resources on the islands, vulnerable elders who carry important cultural and historical knowledge, and historical trauma from prior epidemics.
Under the order, travel to Haida Gwaii will be subject to the approval of the “collective Haida Gwaii communities” for medical appointments, urgent or emergency family matters, to deliver essential goods or to provide essential services.
The province is sending staff to communities on the mainland and the islands to help communities implement the restrictions.
There are at least 20 cases of the virus on the islands, all believed to be linked to residents who had travelled or their contacts.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday that there are still people who were potentially exposed that are within the incubation window and that the case count could still climb.
The move will affect fishing lodges on the islands who have reopened despite the opposition of the Haida Nation.
None of the current cases have been linked to the lodges, who say they are flying clients directly from the mainland and ensuring no contact with island communities.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.