An aerial view of Zeballos village (A.Janisse)

Zeballos doesn’t expect to feel the pinch of COVID-19 restrictions until tourist season

With a small population, seasonal businesses and a single medical clinic, the coastal village braces for an impact, if any

Zeballos usually witnesses a surge in visitors each summer as tourists flock to the village on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The small community of 107 people is popular among travellers because of its picturesque scenery and wilderness recreation activities.

But travellers likely won’t be coming this summer.

“This year, there is not going to be a tourist season,” says Dan O’Connor, co-owner of popular tourist hotel Cedars Inn.

With everything but essential services shut down in the village, O’Connor and his wife Christina are also being cautious about their health, as they are senior citizens. They’ve cancelled reservations for bookings and have shut down the restaurant.

“Our biggest clientele is from Britain – naturally we had to cancel everything,” added O’Connor.

This hurdle comes after the coastal community was besieged by a wildfire in 2018, and most of its properties were affected by an evacuation order imposed for several months until its removal in May 2019.

RELATED: Evacuation order lifted for most of Zeballos, but five homes still affected

The couple also owns a grocery store in the vicinity, and although standard commodities are available, there has been a lot of logistical challenges. Designated as essential service, the store is open, allowing in only one customer at a time.

The owners had to work around availability of products, often replacing them or switching wholesale retailers.

“The person who looks after the store is scared to work nowadays with this pandemic,” said O’Connor pointing out that the village has one medical clinic staffed by a nurse and a couple of visiting physicians.

The village is highly reliant on Telehealth services for their medical consultations. To avoid further strain on the limited medical resources, the village of Zeballos issued a notice earlier this month asking visitors not to travel to the community to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Everyone in the village has been following protocol; however, O’Connor points out that there were still campers and trailers that came in during the Easter break.

“Access to the Ehatis reserve has been gated now and there’s clear instructions prohibiting entry for non-residents, but people were still visiting over the weekend,” he said.

On the other hand, with a small population and an even smaller business community, Zeballos is yet to witness any drastic impact, said Meredith Starkey, chief administrative officer of the village council.

“Since it is not yet tourist season, we haven’t been as impacted as I expected it to be in terms of the local economy,” she said.

Most residents usually go to Port McNeill for a grocery run or order commodities online.

“The biggest impact here however, is the closure of schools. The school is our primary community contact for the people of this village and not having that forum has been hard on everyone.”