COVID-19: Parks Canada set to close national parks

The view from  atop Mt. Norquay Ski Resort in Banff National Park.

In a bid to keep people safe at home during the COVID-19 crisis, access to Canada’s national parks is being suspended.

In a video message posted on Twitter Tuesday, a Parks Canada spokesman said effective 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, parking lots in national parks and at national heritage sites across the country will be shut and access to all areas curtailed indefinitely.

The decision was made following Ottawa’s demand Canadians do better at social distancing to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, and by crowds that flocked to national parks last weekend amid mild weather.

“We saw visitation rates soar, this has been an issue, with our trails and day-use areas quite suddenly crowded,” said the spokesman.

“To be clear, this is quite unsafe…you need to stay home and respect social distancing practises.”

Anyone with plans to visit national parks, marine conservation areas or federally-operated heritage sites should cancel those plans, he added.

The move follows concerns expressed by those living in mountain towns west of Calgary about too many visitors and the risk of COVID-19 infection that could bring.

On Sunday, the mayor of Banff thanked people for staying away from the normally-bustling mountain tourist mecca, adding “let’s keep it that way.”

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed frustration with some Canadians’ unwillingness to remain at home and maintain two metres’ distance when outside.

“Enough is enough,” said Trudeau, whose government has threatened to take tougher measures on social distancing if Canadians fail to heed instructions.

Parks Canada couldn’t say when the decision effectively barring visitors will be lifted and health experts say it could be at least weeks before distancing measures are eased.

Banff National Park an hour west of Calgary is by far the country’s busiest, attracting 4 million visitors a year.

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