Too many tourists, too few masks in sight in Gaspé’s vacation hotspots

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Lisa Bond opened her craft and gift shop on Main Street in Gaspé just over a month ago, selling jewelry and t-shirts that she designs herself.

Only about half of the customers who walk into his shop wear a mask these days, and when they do, they’re usually locals, Bond said.

“The locals seem to be following him a lot more carefully, and that’s a good thing: we need to protect ourselves.”

Bond is not personally a fan of wearing masks, but she says she will enforce the rule that face coverings must be worn in indoor public spaces from Saturday.

Like many business owners in the Gaspé, she had to distinguish between the desire to welcome tourists and the protection of her community against COVID-19.

Lisa Bond, owner of a business in Gaspé, said she would abide by new government mask rules although she would prefer it to remain a personal choice. (Julia Page, CBC)

There have only been nine deaths from COVID in his area, almost all of them linked to a single outbreak at a nursing home in the town of Maria. Many tourists come from Montreal, the Canadian epicenter of the disease, where more than 3,400 people have died since the start of the pandemic.

Jean-François Gavioli, the owner of the Marché de Saveurs Gaspésiennes, made masks mandatory in his small grocery store months ago, because he knew there was not enough space to respect the rule of distancing from two meters.

He said most people – locals and tourists alike – were understanding, but some hurled “every insult you can think of” at him, he said. He was even called a “fool”.

“They can shop elsewhere with pleasure.”

Tourists from the rest of Quebec flock to Gaspé, but locals say many are unaware of COVID-19 prevention measures. (Julia Page / CBC)

“Hostility” in some stores

The narrow sidewalks of Percé, one of Gaspé’s main tourist destinations, are filled with visitors eager to catch a glimpse of the iconic Percé Rock.

Frédéric Garant and his family, who came from Terrebonne, stood out from the crowd with their colorful masks when they entered a small souvenir shop on the main street of Percé.

“People in the shops and everywhere have told us that we are one of the few who wear masks,” Garant said.

“It’s a little unfortunate, but there is really nothing we can do except what we are doing now.”

Frédéric Garant, accompanied by his sons Benjamin and Raphaël, were visiting Percé and said that they all wear masks when they enter businesses during the holidays in Gaspé. (Julia Page / CBC)

The mayor of Percé, Cathy Poirier, said she was frustrated that so many visitors ignore hygiene rules, such as washing their hands before entering a business.

“Right now, there is a lot of hostility inside the stores,” Poirier told Radio-Canada. “It is unfortunate and harmful. There are rules and these are individual responsibilities.”

So much so that the municipalities of the Gaspé are sending public health employees to crowded tourist attractions to ask visitors to comply with measures related to COVID-19.

Visitors are nevertheless welcome

The tourist season in Gaspé normally reaches its peak during the two-week construction vacation that begins this weekend.

But with travel to the United States banned, the region is already seeing a steady flow of tourists.

Tracy Major, coordinator of the Kempffer Cultural Interpretation Center in New Carlisle, said tourists from other parts of the province have arrived earlier than usual this year.

Jérémy Laplante and Tracy Major, who work at the Kempffer Cultural Interpretation Center in New Carlisle, had to adapt the historical tour of the center to meet COVID-19 rules. (Julia Page / CBC)

The cultural center also serves as a gathering place for the local English-speaking community, and Major has heard from older members who are concerned that tourists may take the virus with them.

“It’s worrying because we’re a small place,” Major said. “We are far from the big centers with larger capacity hospitals.”

“But the show has to go on,” the major said. The center distributes masks to people at the entrance and has set up hand washing stations.

Yv Bonnier-Viger, the director of public health for Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine, sees no problem with visitors coming to Gaspé, as long as they respect the hygiene rules put in place. place to prevent transmission of COVID-19. (Julia Page / CBC)

The region’s director of public health, Dr Yv Bonnier-Viger, said following these rules is key to being able to welcome tourists this year.

His team did a mathematical simulation to explore what the potential impact of opening up the region to tourism could be.

“Visitors are not much of a threat,” he said. However, if people abandon the measures they have learned over the past few months “they may cause the virus to come back.”

The tourist season in Gaspé started early this year, with more visitors arriving in early July, according to several traders. (Julia Page / CBC)


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