British Columbia

COVID-19 outbreak declared at LNG Canada worksite in Kitimat, as 14 test positive

Fourteen employees of the LNG Canada Project in Kitimat, B.C. have tested positive for COVID-19 and an outbreak has been declared.

Industrial site safety plans still working, Dr. Henry says

John Horgan poses for a selfie while on a tour of LNG Canada in Northern B.C. on Friday Jan. 17, 2020. (John Horgan/Twitter)

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the province's industrial COVID-19 safety plans are working, despite an outbreak of cases at a liquefied natural gas worksite in Kitimat, B.C where 14 workers at the LNG Canada Project have tested positive for the virus.

According to the Northern Health Authority, all 14 cases have been linked to two isolated work sites and contact tracing continues.

Thirty-two employees are self-isolating on site, with more isolating in their home communities.

Northern Health says it is working with both LNG Canada and the prime contractor at the location, JGC Fluor, to manage the outbreak and keep nearby communities safe.

Industrial safety plans a success: Henry

Asked about the outbreak during her Thursday afternoon news briefing, Henry said industrial camps had been a "huge concern" but the safety plans put together by employers have been largely successful.

"We've had very few cases. Those cases have been isolated," she said, pointing to the COVID-free tree planting season as an example of essential work being done. "This is our first outbreak and it was caught and is being managed."

Henry said it does not appear the outbreak has spread beyond the worksite.

Calls to shut camps down

Several individuals and organizations have long called for the province to suspend activity at major industrial sites during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In March, Dr. David Bowering, the former chief medical health officer for Northern Health, wrote an open letter to the province calling worksites "essentially landlocked cruise ships" that posed a risk to both workers and the surrounding communities.

The province, however, resisted that call, instead working with LNG Canada, BC Hydro and other organizations to implement COVID-19 testing and safety protocols.

Those plans include barring workers from gathering socially or taking in entertainment events in nearby communities.

According to documents obtained through an access to information request by CBC, senior officials struggled to define major industrial projects as essential.

"I can't argue Site C, LNG Canada, etc. are essential," then-deputy minister of energy, mines and petroleum resources Dave Nikolesjin (who has since left his job in government)  wrote in a March 23 email. 

"But they are taking exceptional steps to reduce operations to critical levels only and believe they can operate safely."

For its part, LNG Canada sent about half its workforce home to reduce contacts, but has not proactively disclosed whether cases have been occurring at the worksite, instead directing inquiries to Northern Health. 

Mayor continues to support project

Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth said he has been working closely with health officials and LNG Canada, and he continues to have confidence the project can move forward safely, despite this setback.

"It's foolish to think that any community or worksite is immune to the pandemic," he said.

"We've seen other outbreaks in communities across the province and we've seen those outbreaks managed, and we're very confident this outbreak will be also managed."


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About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.

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