VICTORIA -- BC Ferries is asking travellers to avoid all non-essential ferry travel amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The ferry service says boats will continue to operate between the Lower mainland, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, but travellers are asked to only take the ferries when necessary.

"None of us should be travelling if it is not essential,” said Mark Collins, BC Ferries president and CEO, in a statement.

"We want our customers that need to travel to know that we have taken steps to keep ferry travel as safe as possible. We are asking our customers to adhere to safe practices for their own safety and for the safety of BC Ferries employees."

The ferry service says enhanced cleaning measures are in place aboard all operating vessels. BC Ferries is also recommending passengers remain in their vehicles on most decks to restrict contact with other passengers.

The ferry service earlier closed its food and retail services and restricted cash payments to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

More information about the ferry service's COVID-19 measures and adjusted schedules is available here.

Fuel rebate introduced amid falling gas prices

Though BC Ferries has advised the public to avoid non-essential travel, those who do have to get on a ferry next month will be paying slightly less to do so.

The provincial ferry operator announced Wednesday that it would be adding a 1.5 per cent fuel rebate to its fares, beginning on April 1.

That rebate works out to 30 cents off a one-way passenger fare on routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, plus an additional 90 cents off of the cost of a one-way standard vehicle fare. This means the total cost of making a round trip between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay with a vehicle next month will be $2.40 cheaper than it currently is.

BC Ferries implements a fuel rebate or surcharge - or neither - based on the price of fuel in the province. The process for determining this amount is separate from the company's system for determining fares.

The company also announced Wednesday that it would delay annual tariff adjustments that were scheduled to go into effect April 1. No new date for the annual adjustment has been announced.