British Columbia’s top doctor says she strongly encourages the federal government to use its resources to monitor international travellers entering the province instead of providing any help with contact tracing.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said Saturday that public servants from various provincial ministries have been doing that work to ensure about 18,000 people so far have followed quarantine plans after returning to B.C.
“To me, that is going to be an absolutely critical thing if and when we open up our borders, particularly with the United States,” she said. “We need to have meticulous follow-up of people who are coming across our borders to make sure that they isolate when they get here and if they have symptoms they are not passing them on to anybody else in B.C.”
Henry said provincial officials will be speaking with her federal counterparts on how that could be done.
Representatives for the federal government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced measures to support national testing and contact-tracing efforts on Friday, adding they would be essential to control the pandemic now and in the future as part of “strong, collaborative action” – though he provided few specifics.
Trudeau said the government hopes to recommend a smartphone app in June that could play a part in the contact tracing effort, noting similar efforts in countries such as Singapore and South Korea have been successful to date.
Henry said the province is beefing up public health teams of “expert virus hunters” this summer to ensure testing and tracing of the illness is kept up before more cases are probable in the fall with the arrival of other respiratory illnesses.
She announced 10 new cases of COVID-19 for a total of 2,517, including 2,057 patients who have recovered.
The province also recorded two more deaths, totalling 157 fatalities.
Henry encouraged people to keep gatherings small as the weather improves to prevent outbreaks and enable public health officials to quickly find those who may have become infected to prevent dramatic increases of COVID-19 cases.
An easing of restrictions in some countries has led to large outbreaks, such as in South Korea, where one person spread the illness to thousands of people, including those who had been to a night club, she noted.
“As we’re opening up more settings we need to be more vigilant.”
Henry has advised against international travel but said she will be encouraging British Columbians to travel locally and support businesses close to home this summer, “if we’re mindful of the potential for outbreaks.”
However, she said many small communities may be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, including First Nations communities, which could face greater loss in the event of the illness being brought to them from travellers.
“I would leave it to them to determine whether it is safe for people to travel to their communities. It’s up to them to determine when they’re ready for that, if at all this summer. And it may be that some areas will not be appropriate for us to visit unless we’re invited in.”
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