It is a measure of the extremely serious circumstances Canada faces in fighting the coronavirus that British Columbians were given what was cast as good news Friday: that provincial health officials expect we are facing a South Korea-type pandemic curve.
In the grim world of forecasting what devastation COVID-19 will deliver, having a graph that looks more like that suffered in South Korea – where 139 people have died – is infinitely better than having a graph that looks like Italy, where 8,165 people have died, 660 on Friday alone.
Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry released detailed modelling Friday of how the virus is spreading in British Columbia. The predictive information is crucial to aiding health officials in their efforts to prepare for what is expected to be an onslaught of cases and to offer a window into whether we have –- or can – “flatten the curve.”
Dr. Henry cautiously noted that we already have bent it a little.
``I’m trying not to over-call it but I do believe we’ve seen a flattening, a falling off of that curve,'' Dr. Henry told a news conference.
As a result of sweeping restrictions on movement, the closure of schools and many retailers, the cessation of almost all travel and the repeated urging of social distancing, British Columbia’s rate of increase in daily cases changed from 24 per cent from before the measures to an average daily increase of 12 per cent later this week.
Currently, B.C.'s reported cases amount to about 130 per one million population, Dr. Henry said. Had the province continued on the same trajectory it was on as of March 14, British Columbia today would likely be sitting at about 215 cases per million.
The data crunchers at the health ministry modelled whether British Columbia’s resources – ventilators, intensive-care beds, personal protective gear – would be enough to carry the province through three scenarios: The one experienced by South Korea, the one experienced by Hubei province in China where the virus first broke out, and the especially devastated situation faced in Italy.
The modelling concluded that even in the worst-case scenario, British Columbia would be likely to make it through the worst of the pandemic, but extra capacity would have to be quickly added if the province found itself in the Italy situation.
Based on projections of a Hubei-like epidemic, the province would likely have enough hospital capacity; if cases followed the pattern of the Northern Italy outbreak, the province would likely have to move some patients to alternate facilities to make room.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said regional health authorities had been working to identify sites, and air ambulances are being readied to juggle patients as needed.
“And what that reflects is that we are absolutely determined to prepare for the worst, even as we work, and everyone works their guts out, to ensure that the best scenarios emerge,” Mr. Dix said.
Dr. Henry and Mr. Dix said the province is working on getting more ventilators and personal protective equipment.
But Dr. Henry said there are “glimmers of hope” in the numbers, provided everyone continues with the massive lifestyle changes that have caused so much upheaval to every facet of Canadian life.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West:
RENT PROTECTION: B.C. is offering tenants some of the strongest protections in Canada in response to the COVID-19 pandemic by freezing rents, prohibiting evictions except in extreme circumstances, and offering subsidies to those in need. The temporary-relief package announced Wednesday will provide eligible B.C. renters a supplement of up to $500 a month, for those whose jobs have vanished or are curtailed as a result of nationwide restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. “No one’s going to lose their home,” Premier John Horgan said.
ALBERTA CLOSURES: Alberta is forcing many of the province’s storefront businesses to shutter their doors to slow the spread of coronavirus. Alberta has already shut down a range of businesses, including bars and movie theatres, while limiting restaurants and other establishments. Now, the list of complete closures also includes “close-contact businesses,” such as hair salons, tattoo and piercing studios; dine-in restaurants, except for takeout and delivery; and many types of retailers.
SMALL BUSINESS: The growing list of shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic is prompting small businesses to call for help, particularly when it comes to their rent. A long list of businesses, from retailers to pubs to hair salons, have been ordered to close or restrict their operations, meaning they will have no revenue even as bills such as lease payments pile up.
PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT: Vancouver dentist Patrick Wu began donating medical supplies after receiving calls and messages from physicians and nurses. “They feel unsafe at their workplace," he said. As dental offices have suspended non-essential services, Dr. Wu collected items such as masks, gloves, surgical gowns and shoe covers from his and his colleagues’ clinics. He then delivered them to hospitals in Vancouver and area last week, even though British Columbia’s Public Health Officer Bonnie Henry said Monday that she was not aware of shortages of such supplies. After an article about his efforts was published in a Chinese-language newspaper over the weekend, more health-care workers reached out to him, he said, prompting him to establish a group to collect more resources.
ALBERTA ENERGY REGULATOR: Alberta’s energy regulator has appointed a new chief executive after months of upheaval and layoffs at the agency. The AER will be led by Laurie Pushor, a former Saskatchewan deputy minister of energy and resources.
PEDESTRIANS: Toronto and Vancouver are following the lead of other jurisdictions as officials grapple with how to allow for safe movement during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how to facilitate outdoor respite for people confined to small urban dwellings. Vancouver Manager of Transportation Planning Dale Bracewell said staff were “working on a plan to reallocate road space as a way to help people keep proper physical distance away from others.” He would not reveal specific neighbourhoods or segments of road being looked at, but said “all areas where we see issues are being considered.”
AGRICULTURE: Farmers on the Prairies are warning of high prices and food shortages if the agricultural sector is not designated as an essential service, as governments expand restrictions on businesses and other activity to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
OPIOIDS: As the new coronavirus swept the globe, health officials issued directives for people to restrict their movements, stay home and self-isolate when necessary, presenting a major obstacle to people with chronic substance-use disorders who are unable to stockpile their prescription medications. In B.C., the extraordinary circumstance of having two active public-health emergencies – COVID-19 and an overdose crisis caused by a toxic supply of drugs – made safe supply a reality.
CARBON TAX: Alberta is appealing a decision that ruled against the federal carbon tax. The legal manoeuvre is designed to give the province a more prominent role in a Supreme Court of Canada hearing, which has been delayed until at least June because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
ART IN A PANDEMIC: Every Wednesday evening for 355 consecutive weeks, a crowd has gathered inside Rumble House in downtown Calgary to create art together. Now, as the response to the COVID-19 outbreak includes limits on mass gatherings and recommendations to stay home, Rich Theroux and Jessica Theroux are striving to keep the Rumble House community going online. Through broadcasting art-making and hosting an online auction, the couple have found a creative way to continue providing weekly respite to their community, at a time when physical distancing is necessary to slow the spread of the virus.
Kelly Cryderman on the Alberta’s oil sector as an essential service: “At first blush, it might not make sense to focus on keeping oil production going, with prices and demand as low as they are. However, oil sands plants are similar to large factories that cannot be switched off easily, and are extremely hard to turn on again once they are shut off.”
The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on help for the oil patch: “But it is just plain wrong to think that Alberta’s oil and gas sector, which collectively employs 100,000 Canadians, should be left to suffer its fate. Would anyone say the same about the airlines, food manufacturers and forestry companies that employ so many people?”
Gary Mason on the pandemic’s forgotten victims: “Much of the focus during the pandemic has been on the global number of cases and subsequent deaths; people around the world have also worked hard to tackle job losses, business closings and a plunging stock market. But there are tens of thousands of other victims here – ones who may never get sick from the virus, but may take a lifetime to recover from its fallout. Home is where we’re supposed to be safe these days. But for many children, it’s the last place they want to be.”
Chris Darimont, Paul Paquet and Chris Genovali on the killing of Takaya: “Without the crushing emotional burden of a pandemic, Takaya the grey wolf would surely and immediately emerge as British Columbia’s Cecil the Lion. His senseless killing by a hunter this week could – and should – leave a significant and enduring mark on society and provincial wildlife management. To get there, however, we need to understand why anyone would want to kill Takaya, or any wolf for that matter. Such knowledge can chart a future towards change.”
Max Fawcett on a bailout for Alberta: “Since the last great financial crisis hit the country, Albertans have build up a credit position in the balance sheet of Confederation that totals more than $200-billion: the difference between what they have paid in federal taxes and received in transfer payments. It’s time for the federal government to pay that back, and do it in a way that both heals the fractures that have threatened to pull Canada apart – and silences the people who have been doing the threatening.”