British Columbia

COVID-19 outbreak declared at Coastal GasLink accommodation sites in northern B.C.

Northern Health says 27 people have tested positive for the virus so far. The outbreak is at the 7 Mile Lodge in Burns Lake and the Little Rock Lake Lodge in Nechako. 

Several work sites across the province have had outbreaks so far during the pandemic

Coastal GasLink's Sukunka Lodge near Chetwynd was built for 700 workers on the pipeline project. An outbreak was declared at the 7 Mile Lodge in Burns Lake and the Little Rock Lake Lodge in Nechako. (Coastal GasLink/Contributed )

Northern Health has declared an outbreak of COVID-19 at two accommodation sites for workers on the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline project near Burns Lake, B.C.

In a written statement, the health authority says 27 people have tested positive for the virus so far, and 17 cases are still active. The outbreak is at the 7 Mile Lodge in Burns Lake and the Little Rock Lake Lodge in Nechako. 

Evidence shows that Pacific Atlantic Pipeline Construction staff have transmitted the virus at and between the two sites, the statement says. Employees are being screened and contact tracing is continuing. 

Staff who have tested positive and their close contacts have been told to self-isolate either at the lodges, in alternate accommodations or in their home communities. 

Northern Health says it has issued an order to limit the work sites to all but essential workers until it approves a COVID-19 safety plan. It says the outbreak declaration will be in place for at least 28 days. 

Coastal GasLink said in a written statement that its contractor, Pacific Atlantic Pipeline Construction, has also closed the Huckleberry Lodge near Houston, B.C., "out of an abundance of caution."

The company said at its peak, it employs about 4,000 people across the 670-kilometre corridor of its LNG pipeline project. 

It first issued a notice about a cluster of cases on Dec. 10, and says it was notified of a positive case among its workers on Nov. 25. 

Contentious pipeline

A portion of the route of the Coastal GasLink pipeline runs through the traditional territories of several Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and has sparked high-profile opposition.

When the RCMP raided Wet'suwet'en camps on the contested pipeline route, there were nationwide solidarity marches and rail blockades in support of the hereditary chiefs.

But Coastal GasLink has also signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the route, from northeastern B.C.'s gas fields to an LNG terminal under construction in Kitimat.

The $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink pipeline will carry natural gas to a $40-billion LNG terminal under construction in Kitimat, representing one of the largest private sector investments in Canadian history. 

Virus transmission at work camps

The Coastal GasLink project is not the first major industrial project to see an outbreak of COVID-19 in B.C.

Earlier this week Teck Resources confirmed 25 cases of COVID-19 at its sites in the East Kootenay region. 

Also this week, an LNG site in Kitimat declared a second outbreak of the virus

This summer, several workers at the Site C work site near Fort St. John tested positive

Many of the work sites have drawn criticism from people in nearby communities concerned that large concentrations of workers could spread the virus among themselves and to the towns they visit and call home.

The province was aware there would be concerns about work sites staying open and in the early days of the pandemic it was tracking "complaints" from local governments, First Nations and advocates.

Documents obtained by CBC News in October showed B.C. officials wrestled to define major industrial projects as essential through the pandemic.

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