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Concern grows on DTES amid coronavirus pandemic, despite mitigation efforts

Last Updated Mar 26, 2020 at 8:17 am PDT

FILE - The Downtown Eastside resident crisis response team distributes brochures outlining how to access safer drugs. (Photo by Dustin Godfrey for NEWS 1130)

Concerns are growing for the most vulnerable people on the Downtown Eastside amid the coronavirus pandemic

A city councillor says several programs have been implemented amid the outbreak, but advocates say more is needed

Advocate says there’s no evidence of any localized outbreaks on the DTES, but that one could easily happen

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Is enough being done to keep the novel coronavirus from exploding in the Downtown Eastside?

According to a Vancouver city councillor, a number of programs have been implemented to help “mitigate” the impact.

“We have been working closely with agencies there,” Councillor Lisa Dominato said. “We have put in handwashing stations, personal protective equipment – made that available to agencies in the DTES, as well. All levels of government are engaged on this and it is certainly top of mind for mayor and council. We have a task force in place. I know that the mayor has had conference calls with DTES service agencies addressing concerns around physical distancing and care of our most vulnerable residents.”

However, despite these measures, Dominato admitted she understands why some first responders and other front-line workers are reluctant to keep showing up.

“When I think about our VPD officers, Vancouver Fire as well, they’re being as responsive as possible,” she said. “They’re stepping up in what is a very challenging time, but I do want to acknowledge, I can appreciate the concerns and the anxiety that people are feeling.”

According to Jeremy Hunka with the Union Gospel Mission, now is the time support services are needed most in that community.

“It could be really damaging if it were to be more widespread, so, on the one hand, you have a group that already feels forgotten, abandoned, marginalized, to a large extent, cast aside – absolutely can not let them down,” he said.

Hunka also told NEWS 1130 the situation is already extremely dangerous on the Downtown Eastside.

“It could really be devastating,” he said. “By nature of being homeless, people do not have the opportunity to protect themselves. So, it’s a really big concern because we know that if the virus were to be widespread in this community, it would really take a toll.”

Hunka noted a mobile unit has been testing people for COVID-19 in the area and, at this point, there’s no evidence of any localized outbreaks. However, a widespread outbreak could easily happen.

“It’s really hard for people to physically distance themselves from one another. We obviously have closed down our dining hall which typically serves hundreds of people and are serving meals out the door instead. We also have chalk markers on the ground, but it’s really hard.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has urged governments across Canada to make sure basic human rights are protected during various states of emergency.