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B.C. cautions protesters to avoid undoing progress combating coronavirus

Last Updated Jun 3, 2020 at 8:42 pm PDT

FILE - Thousands of people gathered in Downtown Vancouver Sunday as part of a protest against racism and police brutality. (Patrick Swadden, NEWS 1130 Photo)

Caution about anti-racism protests comes as B.C. records another death and 22 new cases of COVID-19

Health officials continue to advise Brish Columbians to limit gatherings to no more than 50 people

B.C. premier says he understands why many people want to voice opposition to racially-motivated violence

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — As B.C.’s health officer and minister of health report an additional 22 cases and another death related to COVID-19, the two are also advising against large protests.

RELATED ARTICLE: One resident dies at Langley Lodge, no new outbreaks in B.C.

In a joint statement from Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix Wednesday, they advise protesters to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus if they take part in demonstrations against racism and police brutality happening throughout the province.

“Exercising our right to peaceful demonstration is extremely important, and equally important is keeping our communities, loved ones and friends safe during this pandemic,” the release reads.

“Whether going to the grocery store, seeing friends on a patio or attending a peaceful demonstration, the same rules for safe physical distancing apply.”

The statement adds protesters should be mindful of the risks and follow the province’s advice to limit gatherings to no more than 50 people.

“Consider alternative ways to peacefully demonstrate, as we have seen elsewhere. Gather in smaller numbers in multiple locations, maintain a safe physical distance from those around you and use a non-medical cloth mask for the brief periods when in closer contact to others,” the health officials say.

“Let’s stand united across our province, our nation and around the world. Let’s continue to work together and learn from others to keep our firewall strong and, importantly, use this time to spread the message of respect and tolerance rather than spreading the virus.”

Earlier in the day, Premier John Horgan said while he understands many people want to voice opposition to racially-motivated violence in the U.S. and Canada, he hopes protesters will not violate public safety orders or break pre-pandemic laws.

“Try to do it under 50 people. Try to exercise responsibility. I’m saying the same thing to protesters. Please, do the right thing. Be responsible to yourself and more importantly, to the people around you. I think we’ll all get out of this stronger than we did coming in,” he said.

Horgan also added he expects police to arrest anyone caught looting businesses in Vancouver.

“I’m absolutely hopeful any of the demonstrations that are supporting the issues of Black Lives Matter and other issues of racism in B.C. and around the world will be peaceful and will be focused on the issue at hand,” he said.

Although Henry has said she’s worried about any progress made so far getting dismantled if protesters ignore the limit on gatherings, Horgan admits this situation is different from other events.

“If people congregate to have their voices heard in a random way, although we do have notice that it’s happening, it’s not a scheduled event as a wedding would be or as a drive-in theatre would be or any other areas where public health orders are in place.”

On Monday, Henry told people who had participated in Sunday’s demonstration to watch their health closely for the next two weeks, and to get tested if they have symptoms.

“Hate has no place in our province and we have said that many times through this pandemic,” she said then.

Henry added the virus continues to spread, even outside, whether chanting, yelling or talking closely.

“So those are risky behaviours, right now. And, yes, there is a possibility we could see spread from people,” she said. “Of course, it’s all a balancing of risks and we know that there is still transmission in our community. So it’s very important that people monitor themselves, and that when we look at these types of demonstrations, we consider both our risk in who we are, who we are around, who’s in our family, who’s in a bubble, the things that we do.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Second rally against racism, police brutality set amid COVID-19 concerns

Following the peaceful protest Sunday, another rally against racial injustice and police brutality is slated for Vancouver Friday.

Horgan also said Wednesday he will be pushing for a national anti-racism program this week during a conference call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his fellow premiers.

Horgan said racism is a vexing problem that requires a nationwide approach to ensure the participation and support of all Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

-With files from Mike Hall