Someone has stolen a bus that's used to give seniors at a B.C. retirement home much-needed escape from life under COVID-19 restrictions.
Management at The Florentine said a thief broke into the reception area of the Merritt facility early Wednesday morning, stole the keys to their 20-seater bus and drove off the property.
The vehicle is used for recreational trips, which Florentine president Frank Rizzardo said are especially important given everything residents have been through this year.
"One of the things that everybody looks forward to is the activities outside the facility – being able to see the fall colours and going out on a road trip," he said. "Anything and everything that makes your life a little better has now been stolen."
While the bus seats 20 people, staff only take six residents out at a time so they can stay physically distanced.
The theft has been reported to Merritt RCMP, and Rizzardo said the vehicle has since been spotted in different parts of the Lower Mainland.
"The latest update is it was in Burnaby driving erratically," he said.
The bus has a bright green wrap featuring the facility's name, phone number and a picture of seniors, making it easy to spot. Staff at The Florentine urged anyone who sees the vehicle to call police immediately.
While there hasn't been a COVID-19 case at the retirement facility, which offers a combination of complex care and assisted living, residents have still experienced the challenges of lockdown. Early on in the pandemic, they were served meals in their rooms and weren't allowed any guests.
While the seniors are now allowed one designated visitor, with strictly scheduled appointments, Rizzardo said life is still a far cry from normal.
"Our residents have been hard-pressed in the last quite a few months now," he said. "I know that our residents will appreciate getting the bus back."
A number of other items were taken during the theft, including a small amount of money and a set of keys to a Chevrolet Suburban that staff use to bring residents to medical appointments. Rizzardo said the Suburban was thankfully not stolen along with the bus.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Cameron Mitchell