COVID-19 likely part of B.C. life until summer, says Dr. Henry; five more deaths

British Columbia's provincial health officer says she expects the novel coronavirus pandemic will continue to impact daily life until the summer followed by a potential second wave of the virus in the fall.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday the search for a vaccine is a top priority because it will stop COVID-19 from spreading.

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Henry announced 43 new cases of the virus in the province and five more deaths, the province's largest one-day death toll so far. She said 24 people have now died of COVID-19 and the total number of cases is 1,013.

"Realistically, and I said this before, we are going to be in some form of having to monitor and prevent transmission of this virus until we have a vaccine or until enough of the population is immune to it that it's no longer infecting people," she said at a news conference.

"I do think it's more and more less likely that we're going to be able to get back to full normal life, which I miss a lot, before at least the summer," said Henry. "Then we need to start preparing ourselves for the potential of a second wave in the fall."

On Tuesday evening, B.C. Premier John Horgan asked people to stick with the advice of public health officials by staying home as much as possible and to continue keeping a physical distance from others.

"We need 100 per cent commitment from everyone to get this done," he said during an online address. "And that is why I am asking you tonight to stay with this."

Horgan said the province will announce a plan on Wednesday to make sure health-care workers have the equipment and supplies they need to stay safe, including reuseable medical garments.

It will involve a partnership between the government, businesses and tech companies to get those workers what they need, such as hand sanitizer that is being made by distillers in B.C., he added.

Horgan also announced the province is extending the state of emergency through to the end of the day on April 14.

Henry said the next two weeks mark a critical period for the disease in B.C. as she urged people to follow public health advice. Henry, who has ordered the closure of restaurants and bars and prohibited gatherings of 50 people or more, continued to urge people to practise physical distancing and frequent hand washing.

She also announced a community outbreak at an agricultural business in West Kelowna where a number of temporary foreign workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

Henry said the workers are in isolation in housing at the nursery and the business is closed to customers.

Interior Health said in a statement it is confident the risk of exposure to the general public is low. None of the workers interacted with customers and they had minimal contact in the community, said the statement.

But Henry said the issue of temporary foreign workers in Canada's agricultural workforce and the health and safety of those workers has been raised with her provincial and federal counterparts.

"This is something I am very concerned about and have expressed that concern," she said. "We've had these discussions at a national level."

Henry said the West Kelowna farm workers were in B.C. prior to restrictions being imposed against international arrivals to Canada.

She said some of the workers became ill and were tested last weekend, with the positive tests confirmed Tuesday.

The health conditions of the workers will be monitored over the coming weeks, said Henry.

"It will be two to four weeks before we understand the extent of the outbreak," she said.

Henry also reported novel coronavirus cases at 19 B.C. long-term care centres but said there are still only two major outbreaks with most other facilities reporting just one case.

This report by The Canadian Press was first reported March 31, 2020.

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