VANCOUVER -- Sailings between Metro Vancouver and the Gulf Islands will increase starting next week, BC Ferries announced Tuesday.

In April, BC Ferries stopped service to Salt Spring Island's Long Harbour and only operated a one-vessel route between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay that stopped at Pender, Mayne and Galiano Islands. 

At the time, BC Ferries said the reduced service was to protect the health and safety of the small island communities. Gulf Island officials had expressed concern about the pressure the pandemic could put on its small health-care systems. 

"As ferry-dependent communities, we are especially vulnerable and face additional challenges. Now is not the time to take a holiday or visit your vacation property," Peter Luckham, chair of Islands Trust Council, said in a news release before sailings were reduced. 

But as B.C. has entered Phase 2 of its restart plan, sailings have slowly increased and on June 9, BC Ferries will reopen the Long Harbour terminal to resume service between Tsawwassen and Salt Spring Island.

Sailings between Swartz Bay and the southern Gulf Islands will also return to "winter seasonal service levels."

"The routes will revert to the sailing times customers are used to seeing and are expected to alleviate the current demand pressures," BC Ferries said on its website, adding that all the sailings will have reduced capacity. 

As of Wednesday, BC Ferries is also increasing sailings leaving from Tsawwassen and heading to Swartz Bay and Duke Point. 

Non-essential travel on BC Ferries is still not recommended, however, and COVID-19 precautions are still in place on all sailings.