B.C. declares public health emergency with 186 cases of COVID-19 and 7 deaths
Provincial health officer orders bars to close, says businesses that stay open must do social distancing
B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C. has confirmed 83 new cases of COVID-19. Three more people have died of the novel coronavirus.
She says the province is declaring a public health emergency. B.C. has now identified a total of 186 patients, of whom seven have died.
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"This declaration of an emergency allows me to be faster, more streamlined and nimble," Henry told reporters Tuesday.
She said that all bars, nightclubs and pubs are ordered to close. Businesses that remain open, including grocery stores and pharmacies, should take measures to ensure social distancing — about one to two metres between all people — and restaurants and cafes that can't meet that requirement must switch to takeout only.
"There are many places in our community that aren't able to meet that criteria … must close," Henry said.
A ban on all gatherings of more than 50 people remains in effect, and anyone returning to Canada from international travel has been ordered to self-isolate for 14 days.
Watch: Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix demonstrate proper social distancing
Declaring a public health emergency gives Henry the power to issue verbal orders that take effect immediately, and she can demand that police enforce those orders. The health minister now has the authority to amend regulations without the approval of the cabinet, and make changes to the Public Health Act without the consent of the legislature.
'Not the right time' for tourists to visit
Henry said she'd also like to see the U.S. border closed to to non-essential visitors.
"People who are just coming as tourists to visit, this is not the right time to do that," Henry said.
Two of the new deaths in B.C. are connected to the ongoing outbreak at Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver and the third is a man in his 80s who died in hospital in the Fraser Health region. All four of B.C.'s previous deaths were also connected to the North Vancouver care home.
Health Minister Adrian Dix described Tuesday as "truly another sombre day," and said all British Columbians need to do their part to protect society's most vulnerable members. That includes things like conscientious hand washing, social distancing and staying home if you're sick, but it can also mean offering to buy groceries for elderly neighbours and those living in self-isolation.
"Dramatic steps can help us prepare ourselves for the weeks and months to come," Dix said.
Watch: Health minister explains powers of a public health emergency
Henry said Tuesday's sharp increase in new cases is "in large part a result of consolidating data this week as our reporting process aligns with the increase in the number of tests that is now taking place in five sites around the province."
She added that she expects the numbers to level off.
The province says most COVID-19 patients are recovering at home, but seven people are currently in acute care in hospital.
B.C. recently launched a new online COVID-19 self-assessment tool, and more than 500,000 people have used it to check their symptoms. The province hasn't released the latest data on how many people have been tested so far, but Henry says the numbers are in the thousands every day.
2 public health emergencies in B.C.
Earlier today, Premier John Horgan announced that all kindergarten to Grade 12 schools would remain closed at the end of spring break for an indefinite period of time due to the pandemic.
Finance Minister Carole James also announced the province was advocating for an extension of employment Insurance eligibility to include self-employed and part-time workers.
B.C. is now in the midst of two public health emergencies. The first was declared in 2016 in response to the high number of opioid-related overdose deaths.
"The overdose crisis is ongoing. It's not stopping because we have another crisis," she said. "That's our challenge. It's not either/or. We have to deal with both."
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