VANCOUVER -- Whistler Blackcomb will be suspending operations until March 22 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, part of a North America-wide decision affecting of all ski resorts operated by parent company Vail Resorts.

In a statement on the Vail Resorts website, CEO Rob Katz said the suspension would start at all of the company's North American resorts on Sunday, March 15 and last until at least Sunday, March 22.

"Our lodging and property management operations will remain open to service the guests we have on location or those with existing reservations, but we will not be taking new reservations for this upcoming week," Katz wrote. "We will be closing our corporate offices and apart from essential personnel, we will be asking other employees to work from home, where possible."

In an FAQ to customers, the company says hotels will remain open, but all restaurants and ski hill operations will be closed. The resorts will provide another update on Friday, March 20.

Katz said both seasonal and year-round employees will continue to be paid, and added that the suspension of operations will give the resorts time to assess the situation in the midst of rapidly changing developments.

Late Sunday evening, the Resort Municipality of Whistler issued a statement from mayor Jack Crompton reacting to the news of the resort's closure.

"The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) continues to monitor the situation closely and take direction from health authorities," Crompton said. "We know that this was a very difficult decision for Vail Resorts and while this will have a significant impact, we are a resilient community that will continue to work together as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve."

Part of the municipality's response is to activate its Emergency Operations Centre, the mayor said, adding that it would be operational as of 8 a.m. Sunday.

British Columbia's provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has emphasized social distancing as a way to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. She has asked that all events of over 250 people be cancelled, and some organizations are limiting attendance to facilities like swimming pools to 250 people at a time.

B.C. now has 73 cases of the illness, which has swept across the globe since it first appeared in China in December 2019.