Beginning Monday, BC Ferries is requiring all passengers to wear non-medical masks or face-coverings at its terminals and while on board ferries to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The new policy comes as ridership on the ferry service sees a rebound following an unprecedented decline in traffic due to the global pandemic.
In June, BC Ferries said face coverings were required when "physical separation of two metres cannot be maintained" but has since updated its safety protocols which require all passengers to wear masks as of Aug. 24.
In a statement, BC Ferries says the pandemic had a significant impact on its first quarter results, with net losses of $62 million during the three months that ended June 30, 2020 — a sharp contrast to net earnings of $12.2 million for the same period last year.
"While COVID-19 continues to have a profound impact on our business, I want to express my deep appreciation to our frontline staff who came to work every day in the depths of the pandemic to provide lifeline service to coastal communities," said Mark Collins, BC Ferries' president and CEO.
Ferry traffic was down 80 per cent across the entire system in the weeks following the onset of the pandemic. But as summer began and travel restrictions within the province were eased, the ferry service added 120 more sailings per week to its major routes.
By the end of June, ridership had partially recovered and was down about 35 per cent over the same period in 2019.
To help offset those losses, BC Ferries said it deferred some capital projects, reduced discretionary spending and reduced sailings to be in line with the loss of passenger traffic — which reduced overall operating costs by $36 million.
"This is decisive action to safeguard the coastal ferry service for the long-term, while continuing to provide essential services to customers and communities," said Collins. "We have been bringing back service capacity to coastal communities ahead of gradually increasing demand."
The ferry corporation said it will continue to screen passengers as they arrive at the terminal — and allow people to remain in their cars during sailings.
In June, BC Ferries said it could be two to three years before traffic returns to pre-COVID-19 levels.