ANDREW WATERMAN THE TELEGRAM
In a temporary reversal of a controversial policy implemented in 2017, the Department of Transportation and Works issued a statement this week saying passengers on provincial ferry’s would now be allowed to stay in their vehicles as a precaution to stop the spread of COVID-19. “Health authorities have urged Canadians to engage in social-distancing in public areas,” the press release read. “Temporarily allowing passengers to remain in their vehicles will help prevent further transmission of the virus.” However, if a captain decides weather conditions or the potential for unsafe travel should warrant it, passengers may be asked to leave their vehicles before leaving the wharf. Crews will also be required to practise social distancing during trips. Because bigger distances between people may be required, it’s possible that fewer cars will be allowed on board the vessel during each trip. Bell Island residents who use the ferry service have been arguing the policy should be changed ever since it was first instituted, citing people who are immuno-compromised or have a disability shouldn’t have to exit their vehicles and make their way up to the lounge or deck for the sake of a 20-minute trip. “At the end of the day, these people are forced to travel on the ferry because that’s our highway and getting out of your vehicle if you’re immune-compromised at all, in any way, basically adds to your risk. It’s as simple and as complicated as that,” Bell Island resident, Teresita McCarthy, told The Telegram Monday. The news release goes on to say that cleaning efforts on the province’s ferry fleet have been heightened, especially in “high-touch surface areas,” like handrails and bathrooms. Based on the advice of the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, those travelling back from outside the country are required to self-isolate for a period of 14 days. They can still use the ferry system to get home from the mainland if they need to but are required to be isolated for the duration of the trip. Passengers are told to ask ferry crew about self-isolation protocols before boarding the ship. Meanwhile in St. John’s, Metrobus also released a statement Tuesday saying while the risk of coming into contact with the virus is low, those who travel using the bus will now be asked to have transfers ready to show the driver before disposing of them in the garbage and to make sure to bring exact change. To exercise safe social distancing between riders and drivers, the first seat of the bus will not be available. Buses will also only be available to seated passengers, not standing passengers. Metrobus asks that riders follow recommendations for washing hands, covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough, as well as avoiding using the bus, if possible, if you are sick.