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Production on the high-profile U.S. TV series The Good Doctor, shot in the Vancouver region, has been suspended because of a dispute over testing crews for COVID-19.

The development follows the B.C. government touting the resumption of work in the province’s production sector.

Series work in Vancouver, North America’s third-largest production centre, is slowly resuming after a shutdown imposed this year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fourth season of The Good Doctor, about a California surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, played by Freddie Highmore, was supposed to start Aug. 10. But it was suspended on July 31, affecting hundreds of workers.

A Sony Pictures Television spokesperson linked the shutdown of the show to “an issue with COVID-19 testing” and said in a statement to The Globe and Mail that Sony was trying to resolve the matter with the British Columbia Council of Film Unions.

The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, representing about 160,000 workers, including U.S. actors on the series, is allied with Sony on the issue.

“The U.S. unions have a well-designed, science-based system recommended by our consulting epidemiologists to keep our members as safe as possible on set when they are working and cannot wear PPE [personal protective equipment],” Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s chief operating officer and general counsel, said in a statement to The Globe.

“The proposed protocols for this production in Vancouver currently deviate dramatically from that safety protocol, including having large numbers of crew on set completely without testing. We are working closely with Sony and other employers to ensure member safety on productions that are starting up in Canada.”

Phil Klapwyk, business representative of IATSE Local 891 of the B.C. Council of Film Unions, acknowledged in an interview there has been a dispute over a testing policy crafted by B.C. production sector unions and producers of The Good Doctor, and said talks are under way to come up with an agreement that will satisfy all parties.

“We’re looking for resolution and working to craft a path forward to make sure film workers in B.C. can get back to work on this show in the safest environment possible,” he said.

He cited the policy of Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry that only people with symptoms or in health professions should be tested for COVID-19, and routine testing of asymptomatic people is not recommended in B.C.

Mr. Klapwyk said he could not comment on the level of COVID-19 testing each side has deemed acceptable. The Deadline Hollywood website reported last week that the U.S. union wants actors on the medical drama to be tested three times a week and the crew once a week.

Early in the pandemic, B.C. Premier John Horgan said U.S. film producers were paying close attention to the province’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and looked “very favourably” on its approach.

Films and television series contributed an estimated $3.2-billion in production spending to the B.C. economy in 2018-19.

The Good Doctor had its debut in 2017. It was based on a South Korean show, and adapted and developed by Daniel Dae Kim, a former star of Hawaii Five-0, and David Shore, the Canadian-born creator of the hit medical series House.

Asked about the situation, the B.C. Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture cited B.C.‘s “strong public-health measures” and hopes of a resolution “so everyone can get back to the set.”

WorkSafeBC, the province’s workplace safety organization, said through a spokesperson that it is not familiar with the specific situation around testing, but reviewed its proposed safety plan for the coronavirus in June.

In response to a query from The Globe, WorkSafeBC released a report for a June 26 inspection of The Good Doctor workplace.

Among the measures in the employer’s COVID-19 safety plan is a reference to the development of a “policy and procedure for daily health assessments of workers. These include a self-questionnaire and temperature check.” No other details are provided.

On a larger scale, WorkSafeBC spokesperson Craig Fitzsimmons said that, as of Aug. 5, there had been no claims related to COVID-19 in the province’s motion picture, commercial or television production sector.

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