B.C. health officials exhausted, frustrated trying to keep people’s attention on COVID rules, says premier

B.C. health officials exhausted, frustrated trying to keep people's attention on COVID rules, says premier
File photo.

B.C.’s premier admits he and top health officials like Dr. Bonnie Henry are wrestling with exhaustion, frustration and rising public pressure as they attempt to hold the public’s attention on COVID-19 rules as the one-year mark of the pandemic approaches.

John Horgan said while B.C. has done “extraordinarily well” against an “invisible enemy” it’s now facing challenges continuing to communicate the importance of following health restrictions to a heavily-fatigued province.

“It’s been very, very tiring for everyone,” he told CHEK News in an interview.  “And the challenge is how do you keep people’s attention?”

That frustration spilled over Monday into Dr. Henry’s public briefing where she urged people to “do more.” She and Horgan then faced public blowback by many people who argued they’re already doing all they can and have reached their breaking point after nearly a year of isolation and restrictions.

“This past week Bonnie’s frustration shone through and people responded, startled to that, because her calm kindness had been the theme,” said Horgan.

“But we’re all tired, not just people at home, not just people working on the front lines, our health care heroes, our people working in absolutely essential services like making sure groceries on the shelves. People are exhausted. Fatigue doesn’t just cut it, I don’t think. That goes equally to Dr. Henry and her team.”

Horgan said he’s tried a variety of techniques, including last summer reaching out to B.C. celebrities like Ryan Reynolds and Michael Bublé, to amplify the public health messaging to youth, who at the time were gathering on beaches and in parties against public health orders. The effort had mixed success, said Horgan.

We’ve tried a whole bunch of different techniques and we’ll continue to do that as the vaccine starts to roll and we get back to normal,” he said.

“But I ask those who have been paying attention, thank you for your patience, keep it up. We’ve got months to go yet.”

The tension between government messaging and public fatigue seemed to reach a boiling point this week.

Some of it has centred around the idea B.C. is dragging its feet on restricting out-of-province travellers to two-week mandatory self-quarantine after Manitoba announced it was bringing in such rules this week.

Horgan admitted he’s noticed the public pressure ratchet up considerably, especially on the issue of interprovincial travel.

“It’s really dialled up in the past week quite honestly,” he said.

“But the reality is the logistics of closing our borders within Canada are extremely difficult. If people are looking for symbolism, the symbolism we need is everyone banding together and putting pressure on those people who are disregarding the rules the rest of us are living by, and I think that will have a greater impact.”

A frustrated electorate, and now persistent vaccine shortage, has also created a political dilemma for Horgan on another issue: Should he, as premier, get vaccinated so he can continue to provide stable leadership during the crisis as head of our government? Or should he wait months until he receives the vaccine as an ordinary citizen?

Horgan said he’s decided to wait.

“I’m 61 and I’ll wait until the 61-year-olds get called and then I’ll put my hand up,” he said, noting he’s received a lot of correspondence from teachers, firefighters, grocery store clerks and other essential service workers expressing disappointment they aren’t given priority access to the vaccine.

” I believe this to be an absolute Canadian value that there are people who need it more than me, they should have their turn before I get mine,” he said.

 “I think that’s what most people would do and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

Opposition Liberal leader Shirley Bond said the government could do a better job of giving people information “about the why” they are asked to do things and improve transparency on information.

“I understand the passion and need for ongoing vigilance,” she said.

“I think British Columbians also need to be thanked for the incredible job they’ve done at this point. The other thing people are worried about is there’s no end in sight. If you look around the world there continue to be outbreaks and phase three and phase four and all these things. People are just tired. They don’t see light at the end of the tunnel just yet. The vaccine did that and now there’s delays.”

Bond said government also has to realize the sacrifices people are making, daily, to follow the health orders.

“Think about these families that have not been together, seniors afraid to leave their homes, who haven’t been out in public with people for months and months on end,” she said.

“Think about long-term care residents who are missing their loved ones and how staggering is it when we’re talking about some people in long-term care are more worried about dying of loneliness than they are of dying of COVID?

“I’m completely understanding that there has been a lot of work for Dr. Henry and others, the pressure is enormous, but first we should start by recognizing … the vast majority of British Columbians have followed all the regulations, have watched the programs and done everything they’ve been asked to do.”

READ MORE: Dr. Henry says ‘patience and resilience’ key for easing restrictions by summer in CHEK interview

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Rob ShawRob Shaw

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