The message from Premier John Horgan today was blunt.
“This is not a drill, this is a pandemic,” he said. “We’re facing tremendous challenges and together we can get through it. To do that, we all need to be pulling in the same direction. We need to follow the orders of (provincial Medical Health Officer) Dr. Bonnie Henry.”
He made the comments as he and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced a series of ministerial orders, under the Emergency Program Act, to ensure a co-ordinated response to COVID-19 across all levels of government for the duration of the provincial emergency.
* Supply chain: Establishing a new Provincial Supply Chain Coordination Unit to co-ordinate goods and services distribution; taking a more active role in co-ordinating essential goods and services movement by land, air, marine and rail; and suspending any bylaws that restrict goods delivery at any time of day.
* Protecting consumers: Banning the secondary resale of food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment, cleaning and other essential supplies; and restricting quantities of items purchased at point of sale.
* Enforcement: Enabling municipal bylaw officers to support enforcement of the provincial health officer’s orders for business closures and gatherings, in line with offences under the Public Health Act.
* Travel: Ensuring all passenger and car-ferry services provide minimum service levels and priority access for residents, and essential goods and workers.
* Protecting B.C.’s most vulnerable: Making it easier to support critical services for vulnerable people, like food banks and shelters.
* Co-ordination: Suspending local states of emergency specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, except for the City of Vancouver; giving municipal councils the ability to hold more flexible meetings to expedite decisions; and co-ordinating potential use of local publicly owned facilities, like community centres, for self-isolation, testing, medical care, warehousing and distribution.
Prince George has not enacted a local state of emergency, although it has activated its Emergency Operations Centre.
Farnworth was emphatic when asked about communities that might think they know best how to deal with local emergencies.
“This is a pandemic,” he said. “There needs province-wide, coordinated approach.”
He added the province will work with communities to deal with local issues as they arise.
These unprecedented steps, made based on the recommendation of B.C.’s health and emergency management officials and invoked for the first time under a provincial state of emergency, will support the provincial health officer and minister of health in a co-ordinated cross-government approach to COVID-19 response and recovery.
“Many local governments, First Nations and partners have stepped up to make sure they have prepared to protect their communities from the impacts of COVID-19,” Farnworth said. “Today’s measures will make sure communities are taking necessary steps, in co-ordination with the Province, to get ready should more action be required to combat COVID-19.”
The province, in consultation with the Dr. Henry, has defined essential services British Columbians rely on in their daily lives in the context of COVID-19 response and recovery. This is distinct from essential service designations under the province’s Labour Relations Code.
In consultation with the provincial health officer, any business or service that has not been ordered to close, and is also not identified on the essential service list, may stay open if it can adapt its services and workplace to the orders and recommendations of the PHO.
Farnworth declared a provincial state of emergency on March 18, 2020, after the provincial health officer declared a public health emergency on March 17. The province previously declared states of emergency in 1998, 2003, 2017 and 2018 – all related to wildfires. In each of those previous declarations, necessary actions were able to be taken without issuing minister’s orders under the Emergency Program Act.