British Columbia has launched a provincewide plan in preparation for an escalation of novel coronavirus cases that, if needed, could redeploy health-care workers, guide businesses through extended employee absences and offer supports for grocery stores, schools and public transportation.
The cross-ministry Pandemic Provincial Co-ordination Plan will use the same basic framework as those used in B.C. during the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks of 2003 and 2009, respectively, putting contingency plans in place for various public services and institutions for the possibility of a three- or four-month outbreak.
It comes as Canada’s top health officer issues a strong new warning, advising anyone who has travelled outside of Canada to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 and stay home if they feel sick – even if symptoms are mild.
A deputy ministers committee co-chaired by Lori Halls from Emergency Management BC and Stephen Brown from the Ministry of Health will oversee the plan, B.C. Premier John Horgan announced Friday. That committee will report to a new cabinet committee co-chaired by Mr. Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix.
“We are ready to respond as conditions change,” the Premier said. “This deputy ministers committee will ensure that we are as topical and timely with information to you as we can possibly be. There are already actions in place to address the spread of this disease, and I want you to have every confidence that we’re doing what we can to protect public services.”
As of late Friday afternoon, B.C. had recorded 21 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including Canada’s first confirmed case of community transmission, announced Thursday.
Community spread is significant because it means there is no clear link to the source of the disease, and that the virus could be spreading undetected.
Four of B.C.’s 21 confirmed cases have fully recovered and one is in critical condition, but is improving.
Mr. Dix said the plan will prioritize protecting the general population, vulnerable citizens and health-care workers, while also supporting health-care capacity.
In practice, this means preparing for outbreak events of different scales and ensuring readiness to implement hospital-wide protocols to safely triage anyone presenting with respiratory illness.
In the event of an outbreak, it could mean discharging low-risk patients at hospitals and deferring scheduled surgeries. At long-term care or assisted-living facilities, visitors could be limited or screened. As well, the province is establishing a list of health-care workers that can be redeployed across the province on short notice if need be.
Mr. Dix said that the province will also co-ordinate with key business and tourism sectors to ensure that there are supplies for daily living at grocery-store chains and to reduce the risk of infection spread on public transportation and cruise ships.
“All of these plans have been put in place because we know that we must prepare for the situation as it develops,” Mr. Dix said.
Until recently, health officials have targeted warnings to individuals who travelled to areas with COVID-19 outbreaks, such as China and Iran. But on Friday, Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, cautioned anyone who has travelled outside of the country, reflecting how quickly the virus is spreading around the world and the fact that cases are being imported from new countries, including the United States, almost daily.
“All travellers have to be very vigilant,” Dr. Tam said. “At the first sign of even mild symptoms, stay home.”
As of late Friday afternoon, there were 54 COVID-19 cases across Canada: 28 in Ontario; 21 in B.C.; three in Quebec; and two in Alberta. Two of the Ontario cases, announced Friday, are linked to travel to Italy and Iran, while a new Alberta case involves a man who travelled to Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.
Dr. Tam is also advising Canadians to reconsider boarding cruise ships. More than 230 Canadians are stuck on a cruise ship off the coast of San Francisco after a man who had been on the ship last month died of COVID-19.
Ontario’s health ministry said Friday that a husband and wife who had been on the ship last month tested positive for the virus. On Thursday, Alberta said it had identified its first case of COVID-19 in a woman who had also been on the ship last month.
With reports from Carly Weeks in Toronto and James Keller in Calgary