BANFF – Checkstops set up to prevent day-trippers entering the tourist town during the COVID-19 pandemic have been suspended.
The Town of Banff is encouraging visitors to stay away until June, and officials say they will bring back the checkpoints if visitation is too high on this coming Victoria Day long weekend.
“This is a contingency,” said Silvio Adamo, the Town of Banff’s director of emergency management.
“We’re not anticipating that high a volume this weekend for visitors, but in the event that that does happen, we will be prepared to react to that.”
The Town plans to monitor traffic volumes all weekend.
“We are ready to re-implement educational checkstops if traffic volume is too high, resulting in people not being able to maintain physical distancing when walking around town,” said Jason Darrah, communications director for the Town of Banff.
“The checkstops would advise people to come back next month when we are more prepared to ensure safety protocols in businesses and public spaces.”
On Friday afternoon (May 15), the municipality will reduce Banff Avenue to one lane of vehicle traffic in either direction in the 100 and 200 blocks to give visitors more space to be able to maintain two-metre distancing from others.
“This will be a trial for the long weekend as we work on the plan for closing Banff Avenue in the commercial district next month,” said Darrah, referring to council’s direction to look into this following a call from the business community.
On Thursday (May 14), the federal government announced the partial reopening of some national parks in June. Camping will still not be permitted yet, but some trails and green spaces will open.
Adamo said the community deserves thanks for the effort and sacrifices made to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which has kept the most vulnerable safe and lessened the burden on the health-care system.
There have been four confirmed cases of the virus in Banff National Park. As of May 14, three patients had recovered, while one case remained active.
“In the coming weeks we will start to see visitors returning to the town we essentially had for ourselves for the past two months. This may cause anxiety for some, and if it does, please reach out for help,” said Adamo.
“Please remember we are a service centre that is used to welcoming millions of visitors every year; as Canadians, it is in our nature to be kind and thoughtful.”
Councillor Chip Olver wanted to make sure the community is well informed about the suspension of the checkstops, amid concern it may cause anxiety for some residents.
“I think any volume of visitors will be very different from what we’ve had over the last few weeks, “ she said.
“How will we be letting our residents know that there’s this change in process, so that they are not surprised and concerned?”
Adamo said there will be a communications campaign to help reintegrate visitors back into the community.
“We’re trying to alleviate as much anxiety as possible within our resident base,” he said.
Adamo said not having checkstops last weekend was a deliberate move to get residents used to having tourists in the community again.
“We did not have checkstops anticipating that we would see some regional traffic come into town,” he said.
“[We wanted] to start to slowly, if you will, to expose our residents to visitors again, so that they can get used to having folks walk around community and drive around our community.”
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