VICTORIA -- The British Columbia government is immediately closing all provincial parks in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The province announced the closure Wednesday just ahead of the long weekend. The government had previously ordered the closure of many provincial parks and the federal government has already closed all national parks facilities.

"Because physical distancing works, it is critical that we take every action needed to restrict the spread of COVID-19," said B.C. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman in a statement Wednesday.

"This applies to British Columbians and out-of-province visitors who were planning to visit or stay at our provincial parks. The message is clear: stay home, avoid travel, do not put yourself or others at risk."

Heyman said the government tried to keep some parks open but "it has proven too challenging to maintain safe distance between visitors."

The province said the decision to close all parks was informed by feedback from the RCMP, local governments and search-and-rescue organizations.

"The timing of this decision is important given the upcoming long weekend and the beginning of the busy season for outdoor recreation and camping," the province said.

"BC Parks is also extending the ban on all camping in provincial parks until May 31, 2020, in alignment with neighbouring jurisdictions and the temporary closure of Canada's national parks. Refunds for bookings up to May 31 will be sent automatically."