Eighth case of COVID-19 recorded in B.C., say health officials

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The patient is a woman in her 60s who is visiting family from Tehran.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, gives an update on coronavirus, COVID-19, in this file photo.

Francis Georgian / PNG

B.C. now has eight cases of COVID-19.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix, B.C.’s health minister, gave the update at 10:15 a.m. on Saturday.

The patient is a woman in her 60s who is visiting family from Tehran.

The woman is in isolation at home with a relatively mild case, said Henry.

She is in the Vancouver Coastal Health region. A small number of her close contacts are also in isolation.

More to come…




This Week’s Flyers


Ian Mulgrew: Marathon medicare trial finally ends

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The interminable constitutional trial over the provision of private health care in B.C. — dubbed The Flying Dutchman of the B.C. Supreme Court by lawyers — finally made it back to harbour Friday.

In many ways, what should have been an intellectual cruise involving a few months of written argument and data from the medical system became a veritable Royal Commission that has generated a library of evidence. It involved 194 days of proceedings over 3 1/2 years that mocked timely justice and badly bruised the belief that the courts can act as an effective brake on bad government by providing a remedy to unconstitutional law-making.

The length of time and cost of the case are an argument that the courts are no longer capable of efficiently resolving such thorny questions of social policy.

As intervener lawyer Joseph Arvay said: “This case would appear to be, at least in my experience, the most complex Charter case I’ve ever seen. And one that truly does test the institutional competence of the court.”

At a time when more and more Canadians think the country isn’t working, the dysfunctional legal system must be considered a primary reason. Indigenous people have run into the same problem trying to hold governments to account through litigation — they too have found themselves bogged down in endless process that pours millions-of-dollars into lawyers’ pockets.

The duration brought its own risks and demands on memory — the constitutional challenge of two provisions of the Medicare Protection Act was nearly derailed late last year when B.C. Supreme Court Justice John Steeves required health care. This week Steeves couldn’t remember what prevented the government from enforcing the law.

“There is in place a consent order allowing private surgical services to continue,” Dr. Brian Day’s lawyer, Robert Grant, explained — issued by Justice Janet Winteringham following an injunction she granted in November 2018 after Victoria amended the law and planned enforcement, though its validity was in question.

“Did I sign 
that (order)?” the justice asked.

“No, it carries on from Justice 
Winteringham,” Grant replied.

“So, it has to do with the amendments, as I say, that occurred during my trial,” Steeves said.

“Exactly,” Grant said. “And what it did is effectively to 
confirm they won’t be employed until your lordship 
ruled, so that allowed the status quo to continue.”

“Maybe (government lawyer Jonathan) Penner can give the minister my 
compliments for making my job easier,” the justice quipped.

Two private clinics and a handful of patients launched the litigation roughly a decade ago because the constraints on dual practice by doctors and private health insurance would force private clinics and diagnostic centres across the province to close. No evidence or data was offered by either government to support the assertion that the private clinics cause harm to the public system and B.C. has not measured the impact or effect of the clinics that have existed for a generation.

“They would have welcomed an opportunity for an impartial objective empirical study,” Grant said. “It might have made this litigation unnecessary as it would have confirmed that private surgeries did not have any adverse effects on public surgeries.”

The Vancouver lawyer accused the government of grossly mischaracterizing and misrepresenting evidence in closing statements he said were little more than fearmongering. He pointed out B.C. has had de facto private health care for 20 years and the sky hasn’t fallen.

To end that status quo, he added, would make the public health system even more overcrowded as the 65,000 private surgeries done annually join already historically long waiting lists.

“Nobody gets 
ahead in the public queue by having private 
surgery,” Grant explained. “What happens is you leave the queue. 
You’re not jumping the queue, you’re leaving the 

Instead of relevant data, the federal and provincial governments resorted to fervid rhetoric about the prospect of U.S.-style health care and the poor languishing in dirty beds at the mercy of greedy, unscrupulous physicians. At one point they accused a respected neurosurgeon of having “scaled back public work because he wanted more time to smell the roses and read a book.”

“This is an egregious mischaracterization of the evidence,” Grant told Steeves. “In fact (the doctor) suffered a family tragedy. His wife developed terminal cancer — and he needed to scale back his public on-call commitments as he couldn’t be operating all night due to his family’s needs … With his wife’s illness and passing, he could not do this with four children.”

Grant swept the broader accusations aside too:

“If there was one shred of 
evidence that doctors practising 
in the private system, just one piece, one example 
of a doctor performing private pay surgery, 
shirking a commitment to the public system or 
causing any problem at all for the public system, 
we can be certain they would have called that 
evidence, but they didn’t.”

He urged Steeves to draw an adverse inference from the government’s failure to call a single doctor or senior administrator to give evidence about problems the public system had experienced as a result of private surgeries.

“The evidence in this trial shows thousands of British Columbians wait too long past government-mandated medically maximum acceptable waits for their condition, risking progression of disease and in some cases shortened lifespan or death,” Grant concluded. “In evidence in this trial, is the fact that in one year, in just one health region in B.C., Fraser Health, 308 patients died waiting for medically necessary surgery. B.C. patients need a ‘safety valve’.”

Before the courtroom emptied, Steeves said: “I’m looking forward to completing my judgment and setting my name on it, and, once I’ve done that, I’ll join the rest of the world watching the progress of this case with great interest.”

He is expected to take several months, perhaps longer, on his ruling. Appeals are expected to follow, which means a final decision could be two, three or more years away.

Outside of court, Day, the face of the litigation, said he was relieved that the trial was over.

“Suffering patients — the more than 30,000 a year who wait past the government’s own maximum acceptable wait times, and the 18-a-week who die on public wait lists in B.C. — need the justice system to rescue themselves from their plight,” he said. “It’s astonishing that we are the only country on earth that outlaws private health insurance.”




B.C. seniors residences taking steps to prevent COVID-19

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The coronavirus family includes COVID-19 and SARS-CoV, both of which can infect humans.

Genome BC / PNG

Seniors residences are among the B.C. health care facilities taking “robust steps” to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as the risk of severe illness increases sharply for people in their 70s or older.

In a statement, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said that while the risk remains low at this time, those interacting with people at seniors residences should be aware of the “particular risks” and take precautions to protect the elderly from all respiratory viruses, including COVID-19 and influenza.

B.C.’s senior advocate Isobel Mackenzie told Postmedia she has “complete confidence” in the way B.C.’s health system is managing the virus, adding she wouldn’t hesitate to speak out if she was concerned.

“I don’t think we need to be fearful for seniors in care homes,” she said. “We need to have perspective.”

B.C.’s seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie.



Mackenzie pointed to the small number of cases of COVID-19 in B.C. despite the high number of people who have been tested. She said the higher risk for seniors right now remains influenza.

In the case of an outbreak of the virus in a seniors residence, disease outbreak protocols would “kick in,” she said. In the past, some B.C. residences have experienced norovirus and influenza outbreaks prompting them to close to visitors and requiring staff to don gloves, gowns and masks.

Echoing the messaging from the BCCDC, Mackenzie said B.C. has a “robust set of protocols” that could be put in place in care homes to deal with an outbreak of COVID-19.

But she said people should avoid visiting loved ones in a care home if they are feeling under the weather.

The BCCDC said all B.C. health care facilities are engaged in identifying those who meet the criteria for possible COVID-19 infection, ensuring they do not pose a risk to others. They are also supporting staff and visitors to follow proper handwashing guidelines and hygiene etiquette.

The centre also had a special message for people who interact with those living in seniors residences saying they should “be aware of the particular risks of respiratory illnesses to older people.”

Precautions to protect residents from all respiratory viruses include regular handwashing, coughing or sneezing into your elbow and staying home if you are unwell, have travelled to affected areas in the previous 14 days, or been in contact with someone who has tested positive.





Dozens of unsuspecting women video-recorded in Victoria public bathrooms

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A homeless man used his cellphone to record 78 unsuspecting women using the toilet in Victoria public washrooms, provincial court has heard.

Garth Galligan, 34, pleaded guilty to unlawfully recording the women in places where they could reasonably expect to have privacy. Galligan also pleaded guilty to breaching his probation by being in the women’s washroom at the Empress Hotel on Aug. 26, 2019. He will be sentenced next week.

Crown prosecutor Lexi Pace told the court that Galligan breached his probation on the same day he was released from jail after serving time for a sexual assault in the women’s washroom of the Royal British Columbia Museum and a disturbing incident at the McDonald’s on Douglas Street.

In December 2018, Galligan approached a young woman in the women’s washroom at the museum, tried to push her into a stall and groped her. Another woman intervened and he ran off.

Galligan also followed a woman into the washroom at the McDonald’s and propositioned her for sex. Galligan was pushing on a stall door to see if it was locked and not taking no for an answer, said Pace. The woman yelled at him to leave and called police.

Within hours of his release, Galligan was found by a member of the hotel’s housekeeping staff standing topless on a toilet seat with his pants around his ankles. She ordered him to leave.

On Sept. 1, another housekeeper walked into the women’s washroom and found a sign taped outside a toilet stall. The door was slightly ajar and the housekeeper saw Galligan naked inside the stall. She was frightened, told him to leave and alerted security, but Galligan fled, said Pace.

On Oct. 7, a woman using a bathroom stall at the hotel noticed a cellphone screen coming from the stall beside her when she flushed the toilet, said Pace. “She was horrified and didn’t know how to react. The phone was then pulled back into the occupied stall. The woman was shaken and reported the matter.”

Galligan fled but he was later identified through security cameras at the hotel.

On Oct. 10, Galligan was arrested and his cellphone was seized, said Pace. Police found a video which was a compilation of other videos showing 58 women in toilet stalls.

“These are single clips which have been strung together in one video. Most reveal the women’s buttocks and genital areas,” said Pace. “From watching the video, I can say it might surprise the court how proximal and clear the view is. … It’s extremely intimate and invasive.”

The Oct. 6 video is 46 minutes and 18 seconds in length and Galligan’s face appears on the video 13 times, she said. It’s believed the video clips were recorded between Aug. 26 and Oct. 6.

A further 20 women were video recorded between Oct. 6 and Oct. 8.

Of the 78 women, six were not recorded in a state of undress or using the toilet.

No one’s face was visible on the video, except Galligan’s. It’s not clear where the videos were taken.

Galligan suffers from serious mental-health problems and drug addiction. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, substance use disorder for both cannabis and amphetamines, anti-social personality disorder and paraphilic disorder.

Galligan was required to report daily to the Assertive Community Treatment team, which helps him. Although Galligan was ordered to live at the Salvation Army, he didn’t and he began using hard drugs, said Pace.

Galligan was warned by the Crown to abide by his conditions, but breaches persisted.

Mitigating factors are Galligan’s Indigenous background and his early guilty pleas, said the prosecutor.

“This is not a trial that anyone wants to attend,” Pace said.

Galligan’s planned, deliberate, practiced actions are aggravating factors, she said. “It’s not impulsive. It’s not a one-off at all.”

Even though he’s under the highest level of supervision in the community, he still visited women’s washrooms at the Empress Hotel three times in a 2 1/2-month period.

Court-ordered reports prepared to assist with sentencing show Galligan has a high risk to reoffend.

Pace and defence lawyer Alex Tait presented a joint submission to the court asking for an 18-month global sentence followed by a three-year probation order.

“This is a very difficult case and Mr. Tait and I have been struggling with it. We’ve had numerous discussions,” said Pace. After his release for these offences, Galligan will be referred again to the Assertive Community Treatment team, she said.

Tait noted that his client’s offending only started at age 30 in 2016.

Galligan was apprehended at birth from the Buffalo Tribe in Saskatchewan and was eventually adopted at age five.

“His underlying problem is homelessness. He has nowhere to go,” said Tait.

Galligan now understands his behaviour unacceptable, said the defence lawyer.

“He has a long road ahead to get help. He needs to stay away from drugs and get housed. … If he had his own place to go, he may have a much better opportunity for success,” said Tait.

“Last time, he was released to the street or the Sally Ann.”

The judge is expected to sentence Galligan on Tuesday.



B.C. doctor ‘cherry picking’ parts of the Medicare Protection Act: lawyer

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Dr. Brian Day, Medical Director of the Cambie Surgery Centre, sits for a photograph at his office in Vancouver on Wednesday, August 31, 2016.A


VANCOUVER — A lawyer for patients and doctors fighting to maintain public health care in British Columbia says a proponent for private care wants to benefit from provincial regulation of private insurance while ignoring aspects of a law aimed at discouraging a parallel system.

Joe Arvay told B.C. Supreme Court today that Dr. Brian Day’s position amounts to cherry picking parts of the Medicare Protection Act, which requires doctors to opt out of billing the government for work in the public system while also earning more money in private clinics.

Arvay says doctors who work in the public system are known to refer patients to private clinics where they also practise in order to bypass wait times that apply to everyone who can’t afford to pay out of pocket or through private insurance.

He says the physicians stand to financially benefit from such a scheme and wait times are only exacerbated when they work outside the public system.

Day says private clinics, like the Cambie Surgery Centre that he owns, are needed because wait times are too long and worsen patients’ conditions.

Arvay says Day has failed to establish any threshold for how long a wait is too long and never argued that the law should be changed to allow patients to get private surgery or diagnostic tests if current benchmarks for wait times set by the province are surpassed.


Airdrie teen charged in relation to death of Vancouver teen found dead outside Calgary

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Police have charged a man in conjunction with the death of 19-year-old Kalix Langenau whose body was discovered outside Airdrie on Feb.17, 2020.

Hunter Van Mackelberg, 19, of Airdrie has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Langenau, who was reported missing after spending time in northeast Calgary on Feb. 15.

Friends said Langenau lived in Vancouver and was in Calgary for the Family Day long weekend. His car was discovered abandoned on Feb. 15.

“All I can say is that I am glad the RCMP have caught the person possibly responsible for the death of my best friend,” said Nathan Rohl, a friend of Langenau’s for 14 years. “All we can do now is wait and let the judicial system do what it can to bring justice to this act.”

Van Mackelberg was remanded into custody after a judicial hearing. He will appear in Airdrie Provincial Court Feb. 27, 2020 via CCTV.


Coronavirus in B.C.? Life with COVID-19 is going to look very different

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Dr. Essam Hamza, a family doctor and pioneer in telemedicine, is shown in the CloudMD app he helped develop for doctor-patient consultations. CloudMD and Telus Babylon video consultations are covered by the Medical Services Plan for British Columbians.


You have a fever, a cough and feel short of breath, but when you arrive at your family doctor’s office something doesn’t look quite right.

A sign on the door describing your symptoms sends you to another entrance and advises you to wear a surgical mask. The receptionist is wearing a mask and sitting behind a plexiglass shield. All the magazines and stuffy toys are gone.

The seats are covered with plastic sheets, but many of them have been removed altogether to create separation between people with flu-like symptoms and other patients. A sheet is hung from the ceiling to complete your isolation.

When you get to the exam room, it is stripped of all supplies and equipment save an exam table and the blood-pressure cuff that is bolted to the wall.

You’ve seen the images from China of empty streets and first responders wearing head-to-toe hazmat suits picking up the sick and the dead and wonder if it can happen here.

It can, and our health authorities are ready for it.

The changes to your doctor’s office are described in detail in B.C.’s Pandemic Influenza Response Plan, a collection of 14 documents that include instruction on everything from contagion surveillance to mass antiviral distribution.

Most if not all of the protocols and strategies prescribed by the influenza plan will be applied to fighting the COVID-19 coronavirus if a pandemic is declared.

“Since the severity of a virus can change throughout the course of a pandemic, and no one can say for certain how a pandemic will unfold, it is essential that planning and response measures be in place to mitigate its impact,” the plan notes.

Dr. Essam Hamza uses the CloudMD app he helped develop for doctor-patient consultations.



A multi-ministry overhaul of the plan has been underway for a month, according to the ministry of health.

Novel viruses spread more quickly than recurring flu viruses, which are limited by some level of immunity in the population. COVID-19 is encountering little to no immunity.

“There is no inherent immunity, there’s no vaccine and there is no crossover protection from previous flus,” said family doctor Essam Hamza.

Pandemics have been recorded about every 10 to 40 years since the 1600s. The Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 killed 55,000 Canadians and 20 to 100 million people worldwide.

The most recent pandemic was the H1N1 influenza outbreak of 2009 that saw nearly 9,000 people hospitalized in Canada.

The mortality rate of COVID-19 — based on preliminary statistics from China — is around 2.3 per cent, ranging as high as 15 per cent for the very elderly. The typical mortality rate for influenza A is lower, between 0.1 to 0.4 per cent.

“One of the first lines of defence in a pandemic is protecting health care workers and a big part of that is telling people not to come in to the clinic,” said Hamza, who is CEO of Premier Health Group, which recently released the CloudMD app.

“Telemedicine is going to be a big part of that, especially for determining who should come in for treatment and who should just stay home,” he said.

The coronavirus family includes COVID-19 and SARS-CoV, both of which can infect humans.

Genome BC /


Even if people do have coronavirus, doctors won’t necessarily want to see mild cases during a pandemic.

“For most people it will be a like a bad cold or the flu, but you have to reassure those people because they will be scared,” he said.

CloudMD and Telus Babylon video consultations are covered by the Medical Services Plan for British Columbians. CloudMD has about three million registered users and enables patients to see doctors, consult with pharmacists and get followup checks with nurses.

Both apps work on your smartphone, and CloudMD is also available via the web.

Videoconferencing is particularly useful for reviewing symptoms and lab results, refilling prescriptions and the 70 per cent of doctors’ work that doesn’t involve touching patients.

Bluetooth-based stethoscopes and otoscopes developed for use in remote First Nations communities by Premier Health’s Livecare can be used for a more hands-on-style remote exam.

“You can listen to the heart and lungs, or see an ear drum in high definition,” said Hamza.



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Minister’s statement on income survey

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Shane Simpson, Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, has released the following statement on Statistics Canada’s release of the Canadian Income Survey 2018, which shows declines in poverty rates in British Columbia:

“The 2018 Canadian Income Survey demonstrates that TogetherBC, the province’s first poverty reduction strategy, is working. We set a target to reduce the overall poverty rate by 25% and the child poverty rate by at least 50% by 2024 based on 2016 data.

“B.C.’s overall poverty rate was 8.9% in 2018 compared to 12% in 2016, while B.C.’s child poverty rate declined to 6.9% in 2018 from 12% in 2016. I’m pleased to see this Statistics Canada data confirm that our poverty reduction strategy is working to make life better for people. By investing in housing and child care, and by raising the minimum wage, we are helping to lift British Columbians out of poverty. These statistics are encouraging and confirm we’re on the right path, but there is still more work to do.

“Since forming government in July 2017, we’ve been delivering on our priority of making life more affordable for British Columbians. We’ve increased income and disability assistance rates twice and made child care more affordable. In just over two years, 23,000 new affordable homes are completed or underway throughout the province and we’re taking action to make renting fairer for people in B.C.

“With the release of the Canada Income Survey 2018, Statistics Canada also released its second comprehensive review of the market-basket measure, which establishes poverty thresholds based on the cost of necessities such as food, clothing, accommodation and transportation. It recommends increasing the costs associated with housing and accommodation, as well as transportation.

“The previous government chose to ignore the housing crisis and left people behind. Our government is choosing to invest in people with a plan to build 114,000 new affordable homes through partnerships over 10 years. We also expect additional initiatives rolling out this year will reduce poverty rates. For example, the new BC Child Opportunity Benefit that comes into effect October 2020 is expected to help about 290,000 families. The elimination of MSP premiums, effective January 2020, and increases to the minimum wage are helping low-income individuals and families.”

Quick Facts:

  • Statistics Canada proposes to finalize and start using the revised market basket sometime in the early summer. Applying these revisions will result in some changes to the number of people living below the poverty line but will still demonstrate a reduction in B.C.’s poverty rates.
  • As required by the Poverty Reduction Strategy Act, the first annual report on B.C.’s poverty reduction strategy will be released by October 2020.

Learn More: 

TogetherBC, B.C.’s Poverty Reduction Strategy: www.gov.bc.ca/TogetherBC

Budget 2020: www.bcbudget.gov.bc.ca/2020

Statistics Canada’s Canadian Income Survey 2018: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200224/dq200224a-eng.htm?HPA=1


Daphne Bramham: It’s not enough to just keep overdose victims alive

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There was some good news in the 2019 data from the B.C. Coroners Service. Overdose deaths in the province declined for the first time since fentanyl-tainted drugs hit the streets and a public health emergency was declared in 2016.

The decrease was significant — down 36 per cent from 2018 — even though the death toll remains heartbreakingly high. As B.C. enters its fifth year of the crisis, nearly three British Columbians are dying every day.

It does mean that all of the money poured into this crisis — for naloxone kits, the training for paramedics, medical professionals and laypeople in how to use naloxone, more supervised consumption sites, and more people now on prescriptions for drugs like methadone and Suboxone to staunch addicts’ opioid cravings — is keeping more people alive.

But that’s really where the good news ends.

Alarmingly, the number of 911 calls has continued to climb.

Paramedics and other first responders took more than 24,000 calls last year, with calls spiking to more than 130 overdose alerts on “cheque days” or “welfare Wednesdays.”

Being revived from an overdose or living with an opioid addiction comes at a high cost.

Opioids affect the receptors in the brain, causing breathing to become dangerously slow, which in turn slows the heart and sometimes causing cardiac arrest. When the hearts doesn’t pump at capacity, less oxygenated blood makes it to the brain. Without oxygen, brain cells die — and they don’t regenerate.

It’s called toxic brain injury.

Within the coming weeks or months, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control will release data on the prevalence of brain injury among opioid users, including those who have been successfully restored to life with naloxone.

“We know that many hundreds of people will need a lifetime of care,” said Dr. Perry Kendall, who raised the alarm during the coroner’s news conference earlier this week. “It will be a tremendous burden.”

It’s far from the only one.

The burden carried by first responders is different and no less costly. They are burning out and checking out of the system, unable to cope physically, mentally or emotionally with the constant stress of being called to deal with all the overdoses.


This is not to say that harm-reduction measures aren’t working. No one disputes that they are keeping many people alive.

But until now, little attention has been focused on the quality of their lives, post-overdose.

Five years into the public health emergency, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said B.C. still doesn’t have a comprehensive system that includes prevention, treatment and recovery.

The lack of a seamless system is particularly problematic and even deadly for people in rural areas and those coming out of jails and prisons, according to Dr. Nel Wieman, senior medical officer at the First Nations Health Authority.

The numbers back that up. The death rate in the Northern Health Authority, at 22.5 per 100,000, trails Vancouver Coastal, which has the highest rate, by a mere half a percentage point.

Regardless of where they live, Lapointe said families frequently tell coroners how their loved ones managed through detox only to come out and die while on the waiting list for a recovery bed.

The problem isn’t necessarily that there aren’t enough treatment beds. On most days, some lie empty because the government only funds treatment for welfare recipients. Everyone else has to pay their own way. And except for those with generous employee benefits, many can’t afford treatment that comes at a cost of $900-plus a day.

Lapointe also decried the lack of provincial treatment standards. Different operators have different approaches. Some aren’t evidence-based. Some are strictly abstinence-based and refuse to accept people on drug therapies such as methadone and Suboxone, even though without that, they are more vulnerable to overdose if they relapse.

Decriminalization is touted by some as the answer. Without fear of criminal charges, the theory is that people would be more willing to seek help.

They point to Portugal, where decriminalization was brought in as part of a massive overhaul of its drug treatment system.

But decriminalization has only worked there because Portugal also boosted spending on the other three pillars — prevention, enforcement and treatment.

Here, the crucial elements are missing. With a minority government in Ottawa, the Liberals already have enough problems on their plate to risk raising the controversial idea of decriminalization.

Meanwhile, most provinces, including B.C., haven’t invested enough in the infrastructure to put a Portugal-style model in place.

This week, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy agreed that there are enormous gaps in B.C.’s fragmented system.

When the New Democrats were elected less than three years ago, she said the drug treatment system had been neglected for so long that it was not able to cope with regular tasks, let alone a public health emergency.

The government is taking steps to fix that. But whether it’s moving fast enough is a conversation that both the coroner and chief medical health officer are pushing British Columbians to have because the lives of many loved ones depend on it.


Twitter: @bramham_daphne


UBC research helps fuel potential COVID-19 treatment

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Dr. Josef Penninger, director of UBC Life Sciences Institute.


A potential treatment for the COVID-19 virus based on the work of UBC Life Sciences Institute director Josef Penninger will be tested on 28 patients in Guangzhou, China.

The APN01 treatment, which has already been tested on humans, exploits the action of a protein that was found to be the critical receptor for the SARS virus that killed nearly 800 people in 2002 and 2003, he said.

SARS triggers a form of pneumonia that causes “severe and often lethal lung failure.” COVID-19 coronavirus appears to infect the lungs using the same mechanism.

“First, (the drug) APN01 keeps the virus from infecting cells, and second, it should prevent lung failure and multiple organ complications, the source of most of the mortality we are seeing with COVID-19,” said Penninger.

The protein ACE2 is known to regulate blood pressure, but Penninger and his colleagues Arthur Slutsky and Chengyu Jiang found that it also protected SARS-infected mice against acute lung failure.

It also protected animals from lung failure caused by other illnesses, according a pair of studies published in Nature and Nature Medicine in 2005.

“As a result of SARS revealing its secrets of how it damages the lung, it has also shown us how to develop new medicines to treat other diseases,” he said.

If the treatment proves effective at reducing viral load and fever in patients with severe COVID-19 infections, it is likely to be evaluated in a new, much larger, clinical trial.


“In essence, we have a rational targeted therapy we had been working on for years, (and) together, an international team, an amazing team in Europe, China, and Canada, will make a clinical trial happen within weeks,” said Penninger in an email.

The treatment was developed by Vienna-based APEIRON Biologics, co-founded by Penninger, who is also a Canada 150 Chair in Functional Genetics.

“The last weeks we worked like crazy to get this drug to China with all the logistics, ethics (and) the amazing effort of many people,” said Penninger. “Now, the drug landed in China (on Monday).”

The trial is being coordinated by Nanshan Zhong, chair of the National COVID-19 Commission, and Yimin Li, who led the fight against SARS in Guangdong, China, in 2003.

The one-week APN01 trial is one of about 90 drug trials underway in China, testing the efficacy of treatments developed for influenza, HIV, and MERS coronavirus, among others.

The COVID-19 coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, mainly in China. Korea, Italy, and Iran are also battling substantial outbreaks, leading to major disruptions in airline traffic and massive upheaval in the world’s financial markets.

The mortality rate — around 2.2 per cent overall — varies dramatically with age. The death rate for people between 10 and 49 years of age is 0.2 to 0.4 per cent, but ranges up to nearly 15 per cent for patients aged 80 and above.

Seven people in B.C. have tested positive for COVID-19, according to provincial health officer Bonnie Henry. Three are fully recovered, while the rest are stable and self-isolating to avoid spreading the virus.

Health authorities remain in active containment mode, with an extensive testing regime in place.

“We are working very carefully to make sure we detect anyone who comes into British Columbia with this disease,” said Henry.

A letter of warning was sent home to parents of children in Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Tri-City school districts noting that people who had contact with patient six “may have attended school in the region and are currently self-isolating.”

Henry defended the decision not to name the specific schools affected as necessary to protect the privacy of the people involved and ensure they are not made “a target.”

If people were harassed, Henry said it could discourage others from coming forward or self-isolating when they have symptoms.


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