Public gatherings have been limited to just 50 people and non-essential surgeries will be postponed as B.C. continues to ramp up its response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
At a press conference on Monday morning, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Minister of Health Adrian Dix outlined increased measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.
All hospitals in the province, including Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, are being directed to move to outbreak response phase two.
“This means hospitals will only undertake urgent and emergency procedures and will postpone all non-urgent scheduled surgeries — and it will be implemented over the next three to five days,” Dix said.
This will result in the redeployment of surgical staff and the cancellation of thousands of scheduled surgeries across the province to free up hundreds of hospital beds in preparation for additional cases of the virus, Dix said.
So far, there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at Royal Inland Hospital.
“I think in spite of the fact that there are only six people in acute care today, we have to prepare our hospitals in all health regions,” Dix said.
The provincial government’s restriction on public gatherings has been tightened, to a maximum of 50 people, down from the 250-person limit ordered last week.
Henry said she expects most bars and restaurants will not be able to adhere to the new 50-person gathering limit.
“We are considering that,” she said, noting restaurants and cafes may be better able than bars to separate people and focus on takeaway service.
Other jurisdictions — including Illinois, California and Quebec — have either shuttered restaurants and bars altogether or restricted occupancy in some.
Casinos and bingo halls in B.C. have also been ordered to close, with Henry noting that the establishments are areas where people who may be at higher risk of contracting the virus congregate. Kamloops’ two casinos — Cascades in Aberdeen and Chances in Brockelhurst — are among those closed.
While provinces including Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Alberta have all announced their schools will close for an extended period following spring break, B.C. is postponing until Tuesday an announcement on what actions it will take on that front.
“We are consulting with education stakeholders today to discuss potential recommendations for school operations following spring break,” Dix said on Monday. “We have two weeks where schools almost everywhere in the province are shut down and we expect a formal announcement on this tomorrow.”
In the Kamloops-Thompson school district, spring break is only one week and runs from March 16 to March 20.
Day cares have not been ordered to close in B.C., though some provinces have also implemented such measures.
“We’re in discussions about whether we need to take any measures around day cares as well,” Henry said.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada is closing its borders to who are not citizens or permanent residents to slow the spread of COVID-19, the ban does not extend to American tourists, which is a concern, Dix said, given the outbreak in Washington state.
Dix said visitors from U.S. will be required to self-isolate for 14-days and urged they do not come to B.C. at this time.
“We think strong action has to be taken at the border,” Dix said, adding that B.C. does not have the powers to close the border with the United States, with such a move a federal responsibility.
Other measures being taken to combat the virus in B.C. include restricting visitation to long-term care facilities to essential visits only, emergency registration of retired and non-practising health care professionals and pharmacists not requiring a doctor’s note to refill prescriptions to save time in doctor’s offices.