My office has been inundated with emails from constituents on the Southern Gulf Islands who are concerned about the potential impact of a COVID-19 outbreak in one of their communities.
They have been advocating for the provincial government to limit the access of non-residents similar to what the elected leaders of Tofino, Ucluelet and Ahousaht First Nation have done.
We had limited opportunity in Question Period but I did get to ask government about whether they will be making the decision to restrict access to rural, remote and isolated communities. Here is the video record of our exchange.
SUPPORT TO RURAL COMMUNITIES DURING CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK
Thank you to the members of the government for answering these questions.
One question that I’ve been receiving…. It’s kind of weird to be standing representing the most isolated communities, I think, on the opposition side. I know there are other communities. Rural and isolated communities have been sending me — primarily, the Gulf Island communities…. I think lots of rural and isolated, remote communities in this province, their members, are concerned about the impact that COVID-19 could have if the outbreak went through those communities, just due to the lack of health services in the communities.
I’ve received a number of emails from people asking to shut down the Gulf Islands or to shut down access for people who are not residents to stop the flow of people coming in and out of the communities.
So I just wanted the opportunity to ask the Minister of Health: has the ministry considered restricting access to isolated, rural and at-risk communities in a way that will allow them to continue to receive goods that sustain themselves but also that may stop the spread into those communities? And if an outbreak does happen in a small community in British Columbia, do we have the adequate infrastructure in place to address that?
Hon. A. Dix:
Thank you to the member for the question. I think the first thing to say is that every health authority — from the Northern Health Authority, which represents many isolated communities, to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority — has an emergency operations centre. Certainly, in the north and in the Interior and on Vancouver Island and others, these issues of isolated communities are fundamental to the work that we’re preparing and doing. It’s also true that the First Nations Health Authority has its own emergency operations centre and is doing a lot of work now with First Nations communities around British Columbia to prepare.
A number of things are important. One, as the member suggests, is we have to ensure and reinforce, if necessary, that if there is a case of outbreak in a community, we can get staff and supports to that community, to have rapid response in all health authorities to such a situation should it develop. That’s very important.
I think, secondly, that we have community plans in those communities and that we work with community leaders to develop those plans is very important. It is essential and fundamental to what we are trying to do. Obviously, health care workers in those areas, in remote communities are stepping up every day to be part of those efforts.
To date — and this has been our expectation up to now — the greatest majority of the cases are in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health authorities and large metropolitan areas. But like other areas we’ve talked of and communities of people we’ve talked of today, isolated communities can be very vulnerable, and we are working and making sure, through both the First Nations health authorities and the other health authorities, that they’re supported in this period.
I think it brings us to the fundamental question that everyone in British Columbia has to recognize right now. No matter where you live — whether it’s in Alert Bay or it’s in Abbotsford, whether it’s in Vanderhoof or Vancouver — you can catch COVID-19, wherever you are, no matter what your age. If you’re a teenager or you’re 60, you can pass on COVID-19.
So let’s not make any mistake about it: we’re all involved in this fight. In every community, we’ve got to wash our hands. In every community, we’ve got to stay home if we’re sick — 100 percent. It’s 100 percent. When the provincial health officer makes an order or makes a proposal, it’s 100 percent right now. That’s where we have to be.
Dr. Henry has asked us to do some extraordinary things — things that nobody in this Legislature would have imagined doing maybe a few weeks ago — in the last number of weeks. And we need 100 percent compliance in every community, 100 percent of people 100 percent of the time, in this fight against COVID-19. The government, all of us here, but also every person in B.C. has to be 100 percent all in.