B.C. declares public health emergency as 3 more COVID-19 deaths announced

B.C. declares public health emergency as 3 more COVID-19 deaths announced
Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks to reporters on March 16, 2020.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has announced a public health emergency in B.C. amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Henry said there are 83 new cases of COVID-19 in B.C., bringing the provincial total to 186. There are 12 cases in total on Vancouver Island.

There are also three new deaths in B.C. Two are linked to the outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre. The other death is a man in his 80s in the Fraser Health region.

There are now seven deaths releated to COVID-19 in the province.

According to Henry, the jump in cases was part of a backlog of tests, but with new testings methods, Henry said the province should be caught up in the numbers by the end of the week.

Henry said testing will be focused on clusters and outbreaks around the province and those without symptoms do need to be tested for COVID-19. The test is not accurate without symptoms.

Healthcare workers and people who are hospitalized are also priority groups for testing.

Henry said bars, pubs and clubs are ordered to close as they cannot maintain social distancing and groups 50 and under. Restaurants and cafes cannot maintain social distancing need to close.

Restaurants can shift to take-out and delivery. Essential services should find ways to maintain distance between customers, Henry said.

Seniors and other vulnerable people are encouraged to stay home and avoid groups. People over the age of 80 are more likely to have severe illness or die after contracting the novel coronavirus.

“This is not forever but this is for now,” Henry said, adding that if the measures are adopted now, in two weeks there won’t be an escalation of the COVID-19 crisis.

Henry said a strategy for daycares will be announced in the coming days. There are discussions underway to try to ensure people working in essential services have childcare.

“We’re talking now about something that’s going to be going on for weeks and months to come,” Health Minister Adrian Dix during the press conference with Henry on March 17.

Dix said Canadians should not go the United States right now and people from the U.S. should not come here.

Kindergarten to Grade 12 classes have been suspended indefinitely in British Columbia as the government said Tuesday it is also working on a plan to help businesses and workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education Minister Rob Fleming said his ministry is working with school districts and teachers on a plan to continue learning for students from kindergarten to Grade 12, but not in classrooms.

“We have to take action today to protect our students and staff,” Fleming said at a news conference with Premier John Horgan and Finance Minister Carole James.

Fleming said the suspension of classes will not affect students who are scheduled to graduate this spring. He said all students who are on course to graduate from Grade 12, and those progressing to the next grade, will do so.

It isn’t known when students will return to school, Fleming added.

“We don’t have all the answers today,” he said. “We’re in a fast moving situation. We will return to regular school life down the road.”

Premier John Horgan promised a provincial relief plan in the next day or two to help companies and workers deal with COVID-19.

He said financial security, the education system and co-operation among governments are three top concerns for people as the pandemic response unfolds.

“It’s a go big or go home environment,” Horgan said. “It seems to me this is a crisis situation and we need an appropriate response.”

He said the province is waiting for the final details of the federal government’s plan before it releases its approach. Horgan said he expects federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau to announce changes to help businesses and workers Wednesday.

The premier said there will be financial support for businesses and changes to the Employment Standards Act to prevent workers from being laid off if they are required to stay at home to self-isolate.

“We want to make sure that no one loses their job by doing the right thing,” Horgan said. “Today we are talking about the plan and the path forward. The details of that really have to wait until we see what the federal government has done so that we can complement that work.”

Horgan also pressed the federal government to ensure it changes employment insurance regulations to help workers, especially self-employed and people working in the service industry.

“We want to make sure they are expanding those provisions to capture those individuals, but also recognize that there needs to be closer to full wages rather than half wages or three-quarters wages depending on what the circumstances are,” he said. “We want flexibility from the federal government on these questions.”

Horgan also said the government is consulting with the Opposition Liberals and the Green party about ways to introduce and debate employment protection legislation without requiring a full slate in legislature. He said the legislature could work on a quorum system as opposed to having all 85 members in the building.

British Columbia reported 103 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, including four deaths.

Finance Minister Carole James, who introduced a surplus budget last month, said COVID-19 will hit B.C.’s bottom line.

“It is likely we will have a deficit,” she said. “There’s no question about that.”

The number of businesses affected by the pandemic continued to mount on Tuesday.

LNG Canada is cutting its workforce in half over the next several days on the construction of a new plant in Kitimat, B.C., to help local communities deal with COVID-19 out of an abundance of caution.

The company says most of the cuts are being made by reducing the number of workers flying in on rotation but, if necessary, staff could be cut to levels required only to maintain site security and environmental controls.

LNG Canada is a consortium of five global energy companies, including PetroChina and South Korea’s KOGAS, building a $40-billion liquefied natural gas production and export facility.

One of the most popular ski resorts in North America is also shutting down in the face of COVID-19 restrictions against large groups and close contact. Vail Resorts, the U.S. owner of several ski hills including Whistler-Blackcomb, says the B.C. resort and all its properties are closing.

More than half a dozen other ski resorts across B.C. have also announced closures.

B.C. has set up a self-assessment tool to help people determine if they need COVID-19 testing.

With files from The Canadian Press


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