B.C.’s Green Party says the province is badly off-course in its handling of the third wave of COVID-19 and is calling on the government to implement a sweeping three-week lockdown that would include in-person school closures, a shutdown on non-essential businesses and enforcement of a ban on non-essential travel.
Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said Thursday that the province — which is guided in its decision-making by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry — appears to be “forfeiting the fight altogether” on the rising number of COVID-19 variant cases, and is failing to step up to the challenge.
“We were not dealt a bad hand — we loosened restrictions despite rising variant cases, allowed out-of-province travel, stalled in-school mask mandates, and did not enforce orders or tailor messaging to hit those who have not been following orders,” she said.
“This third wave is the outcome of that inaction.
“Neither the methods nor the messaging are working. It cannot only be up to individuals to deal with this crisis. We need a coordinated response and action from the government that shows they are taking the immediate and long-term threat of COVID-19 seriously.”
The Greens called for a “targeted shutdown strategy for a three-week period” that includes moving B.C. schools to online learning, closing non-essential businesses and “enforcing non-essential travel measures.”
The call for a three-week lockdown marks the most aggressive stance taken yet by a B.C. political party on the pandemic, and one that Henry and the NDP government have argued for almost a year is not necessary or possible.
Premier John Horgan told CBC this week it was “outrageous” some people are travelling to Vancouver Island for vacation while Henry recommends against it, but that the province doesn’t want to subject them to police intervention. “What do we do, arrest them?” he asked.
The Greens also suggest B.C. “should adopt a COVID zero strategy,” which in other countries has involved a strict lockdown, increased testing, travel bans and tight controls designed to drive infection rates to almost zero.
While it has worked in some countries like New Zealand, Horgan has argued for months that B.C. cannot lock down its thousands of kilometres of undefended border with the United States, Alberta, the Yukon and Northwest Territories, as well as its numerous airports, ports and coastline.
“I appreciate we want to be like New Zealand but we can’t be,” Horgan said earlier this week.
The Greens also propose daily COVID-19 public briefings by health officials, publishing case numbers on weekends and holidays, expanding asymptomatic testing and rapid testing, more reporting on variants of concerns and increased staffing at vaccination clinics so that they can operate longer hours and administer all the doses that arrive in the province.
Henry has said the current restrictions, including a ban on in-person dining, can effectively combat the rising number of COVID-19 cases if British Columbians follow the rules and limit social interaction. She has so far refused to reconsider school closures (though B.C. did close schools last year), saying children see significant educational and social damage when they aren’t allowed to attend school in-person, and has resisted calls for wider business closures saying current mask and distancing rules adequately protect the public.
Furstenau said the province is showing complacency, not leadership.
“British Columbians are angry, they are anxious, and they are scared,” said Furstenau. “It is not enough to ask those who are still listening to get through the next couple of months. We urgently need a shift in government response. Instead of bracing for the impact of rising variants, we can mitigate it right now.”
The Opposition B.C. Liberals have also called for more testing and more public data, but have stopped short of calling for a similar three-week lockdown, COVID zero, school closures and enforced travel bans.