Restart economy faster depending on region? Not for now, premier says

B.C. Premier John Horgan isn’t dismissing calls for a regional approach to reopening the province amid the pandemic, but says that, for now, there remains just one plan for reopening every corner of the province at the same time.

“We are all in this together — north, south, east and west — and the best way forward is that we take these steps together,” Horgan said in a weekly update on Wednesday.

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Vancouver Island has just one active case of COVID-19 — a patient who is in hospital — and has had no new cases since May 22. (The total Island case count has been 126 since May 8, but on May 22, the number was boosted to 127 to account for a Victoria resident who became sick in Alberta and returned when recovered.)
There have been no outbreaks in long-term care homes or hospitals on the Island, or community outbreaks in industries or offices.

The low case numbers in the Island Health region have some groups urging B.C. to consider a regional approach to easing restrictions on everything from visits to seniors homes to performing more postponed surgeries.

Brenda Brophy hasn’t seen her mom since March 16. Her mother, who has dementia, is in long-term care at Mount St. Mary’s in Victoria. Brophy has started an online petition to allow for visits at Island seniors’ homes, while others have written to the provincial health officer asking for the same. 

Brophy said family members planned to visit from all parts of the country for her mother’s 100th birthday on April 5 but had to cancel because of the pandemic. While understanding that the lockdown is in place to keep seniors safe from the virus, the family was disappointed.

“I have waited, however we still remain under lockdown with no accountability from the care homes or our governments on what the next phase will mean for us,” wrote Brophy in her online petition.

“This cannot continue — dementia is a relentless and unforgiving degenerative disease that waits for no one and certainly not for a vaccine.”

She wants to hear a plan for reopening.

If plans are underway, she wants a hint of what they are, as was done with school and restaurant openings, she said.

The provincial approach to re-opening is being rolled out in stages. B.C. is now in Stage 2, with Stage 3 set to unfold this month.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is expected to give an update today on what comes next. If transmission rates are considered to be low or in decline, hotels and resorts will be allowed to reopen and there will be a broader opening of parks, including some overnight camping.

“Stage 3 is just around the corner and whether you live on the north coast, or on Vancouver Island, or in the Kootenays, we all want to come out of this together, safe and focused on a bright future for British Colombians,” said Horgan.

On Tuesday, the B.C. Liberals also asked for “regionally specific approaches to opening up economic activity where it is safe to do so.”

The Liberals asked the premier to indicate the conditions under which a region-by-region approach to safely reopening the province could be taken, with a focus on tourism.

Henry has been asked on several occasions about a regional approach. Each time she has advised against it, including when asked this week about the Liberals’ suggestion.

Infection numbers have been kept low because of a co-ordinated provincial approach to testing, public health and businesses reopening, she said.

There are low levels of transmission but there have been new cases in the Northern and Interior health regions, she said, and there continue to be new cases where the buik of the province’s population live — in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health regions.

“At this point this approach has really served as well and I think we should have a continued [co-ordinated] approach unless there’s good evidence that there’s a reason not to.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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