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B.C. prepared for four more months of COVID-19: premier

Last Updated Mar 6, 2020 at 6:27 pm PST

Summary

The focus remains on identification and containment of isolated cases and possible clusters: province

The province will continue to increase testing its capacity: Horgan

The government has the power to restrict travel, if necessary: health minister

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – B.C. is prepared to handle a COVID-19 outbreak for up to four more months, according to the premier.

Premier John Horgan has appointed a deputy minsters’ committee to oversee a coordinated, province-wide response that includes multiple ministries and aid from Ottawa.

Horgan and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provided an update on the cross-government approach Friday, which includes preparations in four key areas such as protecting vulnerable people and healthcare workers, and supporting an emergency response to the outbreak.

They said the focus now remains on identification and containment of isolated cases and possible clusters.

Horgan added the province will continue to increase its testing capacity.

“I believe we are on the right track,” Horgan said. “But we need to vigilant.”

He also announced the deputy minsters’ committee to guide the approach will be co-chaired by by Lori Halls from Emergency Management B.C. and Stephen Brown from the ministry of health.

“This deputy ministers’ committee will guide a government-wide approach to this pandemic and ensure we are as prepared as we can possibly be,” Horgan said.

While Phase 1 of the “Pandemic Provincial Coordination Plan” is underway, the second would escalate cross-government co-ordination to direct actions and resources, as required. It also prepares for the use of emergency powers set out in the Emergency Program Act and Public Health Act.

It would also ensure provincial business and service continuity with four areas of action.

The first is to protect the population, which includes increased testing and communication, as well as preparation for high work and school absence rates due to illness, and planning for an outbreak that could last four months. Key sectors that could be affected most include grocery supply chains, public transportation and tourism, namely cruise ships.

The second key area is protecting vulnerable citizens, seniors in particular, and those with chronic illnesses who may need medication. The plan is to boost communication with doctors who may be working overtime and need to be compensated, activate protocols to protect people in long-term care, assisted living, home and community care.

The third area is protecting health workers. Supply issues, such as masks, and redeployment of staff are considerations in this area.

The fourth is to support emergency operation centres in every health region, delay non-urgent surgeries and send low-risk patients home, and set up isolated wards for COVID-19 patients.

B.C. has seen 21 cases of coronavirus so far, with four patients in recovery, and one in intensive care.

Dr. Henry said the latter is a woman in her 80s who recently travelled to India and Hong Kong. She remains in ICU at Vancouver General hospital, but her condition is improving.

“The COVID-19 pandemic response plans and materials are developed in partnership with our experts at the BC Centre for Disease Control, based on our provincial influenza pandemic plans that all health authorities had implemented in 2012, as well as the lessons we had learned from H1N1 and SARS in the past,” Henry said in a release.

Minister of Health Adrian Dix reinforced the importance of isolating those infected, widely communicating critical information, proper hand-washing, wearing masks, and calling ahead to doctors’ offices if one is experiences symptoms.

He said so far 2,803 samples have been tested involving 2,008 individuals in B.C. – representing almost a doubling of numbers in past week as the province upgraded its response.

Dix added the government has the power to restrict travel, if necessary.

“But we are not at they point yet,” he said.