Port Renfrew is closed to the public. (File contributed/Portrenfrew.com)

Port Renfrew is closed to the public. (File contributed/Portrenfrew.com)

Port Renfrew, Pacheedaht Nation close communities to visitors amidst COVID-19 fears

An influx of visitors to the area had locals concerned about resources

The community of Port Renfrew and the Pacheedaht First Nation are closing the area to visitors due to COVID-19 fears.

As of March 22 residents put up signage in the area and online asking non-resident visitors to postpone their trips to the communities, which had recently been overwhelmed by people looking to escape self-isolation in the area’s beautiful coastal scenery.

“What happened on the weekend is we had as many people on that highway as when they closed the Malahat,” explained Mike Hicks, CRD director for the Juan de Fuca electoral district. “It was insanity.”

This resulted in more people accessing local grocery stores and public washrooms, something Hicks said the surrounding communities do not have the resources to accommodate.

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Port Renfrew has a population of 140 people, while the Pacheedaht Nation is around 200, with one general store and a small volunteer firefighter department of 16 people.

“There’s barely enough to take care of the locals, let alone thousands of people coming in,” Hicks said, adding that the larger concern is if there’s any kind of emergency. “There’s just not the resources to take care of that many people.”

A post from Port Renfrew’s website asks tourists to delay their trips to the area. (portrenfrew.com)

In addition to closing off the communities, as of noon on March 22 the gates to the Jordan River Camp Ground will be closed after gatherings of more than 50 people were spotted over the weekend, a number banned by the Provincial Health Officer in attempts to limit the spread of COVID-19. All accommodations and restaurants in Port Renfrew have closed.

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Hicks has also put forward a request to Premier John Horgan to close the gates to China Beach, Botanical Beach and French Beach.

He added that the request required a lot of “soul searching,” but seemed the right decision.

“Port Renfrew worked hard to become a destination,” he said. “Now it’s saying saying please come back, but come back later.”

nicole.crescenzi@vicnews.com

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