B.C. Premier John Horgan says the province’s success to date in containing the spread of COVID-19 is fuelling plans for how and when the province will reopen schools and businesses and resume elective surgeries in hospitals.
Mr. Horgan said it will still be weeks before those decisions will be made and any resumption of restricted activities will be gradual. But during a news conference Wednesday, he added: “When the startup begins, sometime in the not-too-distant future … I think we’ll be in a good place."
The province set aside funding late in March as part of a $5-billion pandemic response package to help restart the economy and the Premier said he is in regular talks with his economic-recovery task force about what is needed to revive hard-hit sectors, from tourism to forestry. In March, the province lost 132,000 jobs, and the unemployment figures are expected to climb.
On Friday, the province will update its models projecting the spread of COVID-19, and Mr. Horgan said he expects to share positive data that will give British Columbians “cause for genuine celebration," even as other provinces and jurisdictions continue to struggle.
“We are on our own timeline. We have been from the beginning, we saw this early, we’ve addressed it early and we will perhaps come up from underneath it early – but the data, the science, will direct us in that regard,” Mr. Horgan said.
The provincial government is taking its direction from Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry, who has cautioned that an early end to restrictive measures could backfire.
Dr. Henry told reporters that a gradual lifting of restrictions does not mean life will resume as before.
“We’re not anywhere near the end of what we’re going to do with this, and normal is going to look quite different for some time," she said. "It’s not going to be the same as what it is today, perhaps, but there are some measures that we are not going to be able to stop doing until we have enough immunity in our community – what we call herd immunity in public health – until we have enough to prevent transmission, to prevent lots of people from becoming sick in a rapid way.”
Under the state of emergency, which was extended again Wednesday, B.C. has closed many non-essential businesses, banned large gatherings and limited travel.
The province suspended classroom instruction in the kindergarten-Grade 12 school system in mid-March, with no indication of when classes could resume. Teachers are now developing a curriculum for virtual learning.
“If the curve continues and we get positive signals from Dr. Henry and the modelling in the weeks ahead, [then] we would be able to look at bringing kids back to classrooms,” the Premier said.
His government is also facing pressure to resume elective surgeries. B.C. has cancelled roughly 14,000 surgeries to date in an effort to ensure its hospitals have enough capacity for a surge in critical COVID-19 cases. So far, that has resulted in thousands of empty acute care beds. As of Wednesday, there were 131 patients hospitalized in B.C. because of COVID-19.
“The capacity in our acute care system is robust, that’s at the cost of those elective surgeries," the Premier said. “I think that will be a place where we will start to look at moving more people back into our acute care system again, when the evidence presents itself so we can do that.”
With a report from Andrea Woo in Vancouver
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