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Check stops deterred most visitors from Banff during COVID-19 crisis

While the vast majority of visitors stayed away, more than half the day-trippers intercepted at checkpoints in Banff chose to continue driving into the community despite recommendations against that.
Banff emergency services stopping vehicles at checkstops to discourage visitors from going into the townsite on April 10. TOWN OF BANFF PHOTO

BANFF – About 2,000 vehicles entered the Banff townsite during an educational checkpoint operation over a three-day period on the Easter holiday long weekend, including some day-trippers.

Town of Banff officials said 70 per cent were Bow Valley residents and 15 per cent were essential services. The other 15 per cent were travellers passing through or day-trippers still wanting to visit the tourist town during this unprecedented health crisis.

While no-one was turned away, officials say the check stops at both entrances to town were a way to educate people about the importance of not travelling to help stop the spread of the global COVID-19 virus.

While thankful that the vast majority of visitors stayed away, Silvio Adamo, the Town of Banff’s director of emergency management, said more than half the day-trippers chose to continue driving into the community despite the recommendations against that.

“I’m not going to say I was completely disappointed, but I was hoping for better compliance for folks turning around,” he said.

“Again, we weren’t making anyone turn around; we were recommending they do so.”

The 2,000 vehicles over the three day period from Saturday to Sunday compares to 31,000 vehicles for the same holiday weekend last year.

“Obviously, many, many of our regional friends understand the severity of this virus and chose to stay away,” said Adamo.

“We want to thank those in the region who are the doing right thing – and that’s the easily the vast majority of day-trippers.”

Starting on Good Friday (April 10), Banff emergency services began stopping vehicles at checkpoints at both entrances town, along the Mount Norway Road and Banff Avenue by Compound Road, to discourage visitors from going into the townsite. 

The check stops were still operating on Easter Monday (April 13) morning.

Bow Valley residents, essential services such as trucking of food, trades, transportation services, and those requiring essential services such as refuelling while travelling through the national park, were directed to proceed into town.

The check stops – staffed by RCMP, community peace officers and firefighters – informed visitors seeking a day-trip in the Banff townsite about the public health directives such as the advice against non-essential travel, and they will be encouraged to return to their home community.

Next up, the emergency coordination centre will examine the data from the Easter weekend check stops to decide on measures moving forward to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, including whether to ban day-trippers from coming into town.

“It would obviously be the most extreme stand we would take. We’ll have to kick this one around a little bit to see what our best approach is,” said Adamo.

“It might need to be a little stronger if we see a trend of non-compliance. We’ll try not to go there if we can, but it’s up to the day-trippers if they force us to decide that.”

At a minimum, Adamo said there will be additional educational check stops in the weeks and potentially months ahead.

“If we start to see more visitation as the weather gets warmer, then we would do more of this type of check stop moving forward,” he said.

Banff’s emergency coordination centre is trying to do everything it can to stop the spread of this new coronavirus, including closing playgrounds, the recreation grounds and the off-leash dog park among other initiatives.

“We know our economy has been completely paralyzed and we want this to be over as soon as possible,” said Adamo.

“That can happen sooner rather than later if everyone does their part in trying to make that happen.”

Visitor numbers to the Town of Banff have steadily decreased over the past few weeks, as more people understand the seriousness of the COVID crisis. 

Mayor Karen Sorensen said Banff is keen to welcome visitors back to the tourist town “when we are through this pandemic.”

“The Town of Banff has very few stores open, and those that are operating are providing essential services to residents,” she said.

During this unprecedented health crisis, all Canadians are asked to stay close to home, where they have familiar support networks and services. 

People are encouraged to avoid gatherings, wash their hands frequently, maintain two metres distance from others, as well as regularly sanitize homes, vehicles, groceries, and any other surface that can spread the virus.

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