Public safety minister declares provincial state of emergency to support provincial health officer’s recommendations
The province of British Columbia is now under a state of emergency — on top of the health emergency declared earlier this week — ramping up cabinet’s powers to address the COVID-19 outbreak.
“This declaration will make sure federal, provincial and local resources are delivered in a joint, coordinated way to protect the people of our province,” said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.
The state of emergency will last for 14 days but can be rescinded or extended as needed. During the 2017 wildfire season, B.C. remained in a state of emergency for 10 weeks from July through September.
“This is an all hands on deck approach,” he added. “The declaration also includes the means to secure critical supply chains, to ensure people have access to essential goods and services, and that any infrastructure necessary to support the response to COVID-19 is readily available.”
State of emergency comes with policing, food-rationing powers
The declaration of an emergency under the Public Health Act gives the provincial health officer “considerable powers” — including deploying law enforcement to ensure self-isolation measures are being enforced.
The public safety minister said he does not currently foresee having to use further enforcement powers under the Emergency Program Act, which also provides the power to control food and fuel distribution.
The act also provides Farnworth with the power to compel people with needed skills to provide work.
“We’re fielding inquiries — both within my ministry and … especially in the health ministry — of retired health professionals who know that they have skills, that they want to assist, and are coming forward to do just that,” he told reporters.
Like the premier, Farnworth had harsh words for these seeking to profit off the current crisis.
“There is no place for anybody — either individuals or retailers — taking advantage of what is an unprecedented health situation in this province, in this country and globally,” he said. “It is important that we recognize that we’re all in this together and that making products unavailable to people through price-gouging or by hoarding does not help anybody — in fact, it has the potential to really hurt people. We will be watching that very carefully.”
“The Retail Council has made it clear that they do not expect any of their members to engage in those kinds of activities,” he added.
Provincial health officer says next week will be ‘a critical time,’ as COVID-19 begins to spread through communities
As of yesterday afternoon, there were 231 COVID-19 cases in B.C., including 45 new cases.
Thirteen people are now in hospital with the virus — up from seven on Tuesday — and two more people — a total of four — now require intensive care. The rest are considered stable and remain at home.
One of the new cases is a resident of Haro Park Centre, an assisted living and long-term care centre in Vancouver; Vancouver Coastal public health and infection control teams are on site.
“We took a number of extraordinary measures in the last few days to try and do everything that we can to try and stop the transmission of the virus in our communities and flatten out the curve — over the next seven to 10 days is the critical time,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during yesterday’s briefing. “We do know that this virus is spreading in our communities.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix urged all British Columbians to abide by the provincial health officer’s orders.
“For anyone that hasn’t joined in this effort, who has been reluctant to join in these very explicit measures we can do to help one another, to help protect one another’s health, I say: it’s not too late to join the fight,” Dix said. “We are asking you to take part today to take your civic responsibility [seriously].”
Plan for ‘weeks or even months’ of distancing
Businesses that have not been ordered to close should be finding ways to ensure adequate distance between employees and customers, as well as increasing cleaning, per the provincial health officer.
The province is still working with daycare providers and public transit operators to ensure transmission risks are mitigated as much as possible. Both services are essential for many in the province, Dr. Henry acknowledged, including frontline health-care workers.
Further measures and directives may be announced in the coming days — and the current ones could be in place for “weeks or even months,” Dr. Henry said.
“It’s unclear when we’ll be back to normal,” she said. “I do believe that if we do everything we can right now, we will find a period of time when we can start getting back to our life and … start being socially connected. I think we will fundamentally change some of the ways we are doing things until we have a vaccine, until we have an effective treatment for this.”
Quack treatments for the virus have begun to gain traction as the pandemic has become more widespread and severe, but Dr. Henry stressed there is currently no cure.
Countrywide, there are now over 700 diagnosed cases of COVID-19.