VICTORIA -- The Town of Lake Cowichan has lifted its ban on river tubing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The municipality first called for a ban on the activity in April due to physical distancing and mass gathering concerns, as hundreds of visitors come to the town on a hot summer day to tube each year.

Now, as the province begins easing some restrictions, the municipality has rescinded its ban with new guidelines in place.

Acting mayor Tim McGonigle says that the ban was first called for when B.C. was in the first stage of its restart plan, when stricter restrictions on gatherings were in place.

“We thought that would be difficult to accommodate,” McGonigle told CTV News.

“We had no idea when stage two would be implemented so we took a proactive approach to postpone issuing business licences,” he said.

With the tubing ban now lifted, McGonigle says that Lake Cowichan will be actively monitoring the river to make sure that all tubers are following provincial health guidelines, like physical distancing, for both commercial tubers and those who bring their own flotation devices to the waterway.

The acting mayor adds that the municipality has acknowledged that it does not have rights to control the Cowichan River and can only oversee municipal parks and properties along the riverway.

One local tubing business, the Tube Shack, which plans to reopen on June 27, has outlined some of the steps it’s taking to ensure customer safety this summer.

The Tube Shack says that only 20 tubers will be released onto the river every 30 minutes, with customers reserving those timeslots online in advance.

“With customers booking online, we will be more than prepared for their arrival, have equipment ready for them as soon as they get to the Tube Shack, with minimum interaction with our staff and eliminating lineups all together,” said Tube Shack owner Aaron Frisby in a release Friday.

Meanwhile, tubes will be cleaned after each use and the company’s shuttle service will only fill vehicles up to 50 per cent to allow for physical distancing.

The Tube Shack adds that it is following all WorksafeBC and Island Health requirements, and will continue to update its policies as provincial guidelines change throughout the summer.

While the Tube Shack and many river users are excited about the company’s reopening, McGonigle says that Lake Cowichan is still apprehensive about the summer activity.

“There may be issues where people disembark, we’ll definitely keep an eye on that,” said McGonigle.

“You can’t control the flow of the river so perhaps there may be some congestion points,” he added.

“I think the most important thing is try to protect the community of Lake Cowichan – with very limited health infrastructure – but also the employees and the customers from any spread of the pandemic.”