Category "Coronavirus"


Harsha Walia: Our civil liberties matter during crises

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Instead of punitive state enforcement unreasonably curtailing civil liberties, we must prioritize policies that enhance equity and that eliminate structural disparities across race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, disability, class, income, and working and living conditions.

Flattening the COVID-19 curve through social distancing requires flattening the existing curve of social inequality. Pam Palmater, chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, calls for a specific Indigenous decarceration plan, as part of a federal-provincial-territorial-Indigenous government pandemic measure. An Indigenous decarceration plan is necessary to transform Canada’s colonial incarceration crisis, address the specific vulnerability of Indigenous prisoners, and avoid the wildfire of COVID-19 spreading within prisons and jails. Similarly, people who are homeless or without safe housing, especially women, youth, and LGBTQ people escaping violence, will find it virtually impossible to practise home-bound physical distancing measures. UN Special Rapporteur Leilani Farha stresses a robust housing policy is one of our best “frontline defences” against COVID-19.

Public health responses that emphasize civic responsibility, communicate clear and accessible information, and ensure everyone can meaningfully access healthcare and practice physical distancing are essential. Over-policing the pandemic, however, simply won’t work. The choices we make, now, will determine what the world will look like when we come out of this crisis.

Harsha Walia is executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.


COVID-19: Ministers announce supports for people struggling and poor

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He said they are working closely with about 2,000 agencies and non-profits delivering social services to make sure they have what the need to operate through the pandemic.

The B.C. government will use a “crisis supplement model” to support people in income and disability assistance, and is reducing bureaucracy that slows down the delivery of services, Simpson said.

He said they are also forming a plan for assistance cheque-issue day next week. Drug overdoses and deaths spike on the last Wednesday of each month.

“We know this is a challenging time for all British Columbians,” Simpson said.

“It’s a challenging time around the anxiety that’s created by this virus, and the anxiousness, and that is even more challenging for people who are living vulnerable. For people who are poor, people with disabilities, people who are on the street, the homeless, it’s an extremely challenging time for that population in particular.”


Daphne Bramham: Searching for happiness in the novel coronavirus era

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This is a particularly joyless March and what have we got to look forward to? April, which T.S. Eliot called the cruelest month.

There’s angst all around. It’s impossible to have even a casual conversation with a stranger without the dreaded COVID-19 virus being raised, let alone dinner with friends or a few hours on social media.

We don’t know whether to be afraid or whether to risk being reckless by going to a restaurant, hockey game or pick up a friend at the airport.

We’re worried about the unknown ‘what next’ because even when there is a lull in the seemingly endless news coverage of all things viral, there’s so much more bad news.

The stock market collapse, the joyless battle of the American grandpas for president, the oil shock caused by a seemingly crazed prince, continuing migrant crises in Europe and the Americas, riots in India and so on and so on.

I want to run away from it all. Except for the virus, I would literally have been packing my suitcase right now for Bhutan — the first place on Earth to put happiness before the economy.

But COVID-19 put a stop to that.

My trip was postponed because of the turmoil of changed and cancelled flights, not fear of catching the virus. Ironically, it was only in cancelling that we discovered we’d been rebooked on a return flight that left a day later, took 35 hours with three stops and landed us in Detroit with no indication of how we’d get home.

I’m relieved, but grounded and surrounded with fear of the unknown. How do I — how do any of us — find happiness now when it seems there’s nowhere safe to go?

Naturally, I turned to Google. It’s perhaps a sign of the times that among the first quotes that came up was this misanthropic one: “Happiness comes from peace. Peace comes from indifference.”

That misanthropic recipe from tech entrepreneur Naval Ravikant belies the research, which says the opposite. Happiness comes from engagement, social contact, a feeling of belonging.

Then, up popped Marie Kondo’s exhortation to “spark joy” by decluttering. I nixed that as an immediate solution. But it’s something to keep in mind if ever the time comes for self-isolation.

Beyond that are dozens of others advising that the route to happiness is to find one’s “authentic self” or one’s “inner awesomeness.”

I retreated to the kitchen and put on a pot of soup. But rather than the usual Zen of chopping vegetables as the stock bubbled, it reminded me that I couldn’t find any lentils on the grocery store shelf Monday. Should I join the panicked rush? What if the crisis is real?

Most of us are urban-dwelling, just in time people. Grasshoppers, not ants. We’re a frail lot too when you consider the Inuit and Dene in the north, Andean highlanders in the south, nomadic Mongolians or our ancestors.

That’s why I travel, to see how others live. It’s how I’ve come to be on six of the seven continents and travelled in more than 40 countries. It’s why Bhutan beckoned and not a Caribbean beach.

It’s why on a gloomy, rainy day with a case of fake jet lag from the time change, I went looking and found happiness at the Museum of Anthropology. Pulling open drawers, there are small things of beauty and purpose. Towering poles are testament to survival and renaissance against astounding odds.

Wandering aimlessly, it’s impossible not to see the interconnectedness of human imagination and endeavour from the fearsome to the sublimely decorative to the practical.

(If fear or the virus keeps you home, you might want to try it virtually. The collection is online at http://collection-online.moa.ubc.ca/)

There were spears, swords, fertility figures, wedding dresses, bowls, spoons, as well as religious objects and necklaces with charms meant to ward off the unforeseen, the unpredictable and the deadly that have always stalked us.

On a recent trip to Edinburgh, I took a tour of Mary King’s Close where in 1645 the pneumonic or ‘black’ plague stalked the residents of the crowded underground tenements.

Their doctors dressed in long leather cloaks with large brimmed hats and wore grotesque, beaked masks made of tin and filled with herbs to repel the evil smells that were thought to carry disease. The sight of today’s health-care workers in HAZMAT suits, N-95 masks, visors and gloves are not less disturbing, albeit far more effective.

Humans understand science better now than in the past. With every new outbreak from HIV/AIDS to Ebola to SARS, the time from first detection to getting it under control has improved. Yet, the unseen and the unknowable remains no less frightening to us than it was to a 17th century Scot or a 19th century Haida.

Where once people flocked to church looking for benediction and salvation, these days they head to Costco.

But for some peace and perspective? Try some homemade soup and some quiet time at a museum … Just don’t touch your face and make sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before you leave.




Better protections needed for health-care workers during COVID-19: advocates

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Canada’s first death from the novel coronavirus has highlighted the urgent and often ignored need for better staffing at long-term care facilities where elderly residents are especially vulnerable to the disease, says the head of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

Linda Silas said the need has become “top of mind” following the death on Sunday of a man in his 80s at a care home in North Vancouver, where another patient has contracted COVID-19. One of four care aides who contracted the illness there is in hospital and two relatives of another are also been sick.

Discussions about preparedness were focused on emergency rooms, critical care and public health units, she said.

“A week ago we were talking about ‘Is the acute-care sector ready?’” Silas said. “Everyone’s now talking about, ‘What about long-term care?’ ”

More infections of health-care workers leading to 14 days of quarantine would mean greater staff shortages that could leave frail patients, who often have chronic illnesses, at higher risk, Silas said, adding staffing levels are already affected by outbreaks of seasonal influenza.

“When it hits a long-term care facility, it’s always more of a crisis than if it hits even your community or hospital. We’ve always known it’s a fragile population with any kind of illness and this is one of those where we have to pay particular attention,” she said of COVID-19.

Silas said the federation has recommended 4.5 hours of care by registered and licensed practical nurses a day, for each resident in long-term care facilities in Canada.

The actual level of nursing is about three hours, with some provinces, including Ontario and New Brunswick, among the worst as few nurses choose to work in long-term care jobs, she said.

As well, there are shortages of care aides, also called personal support workers, which adds more stress to a challenging work environment, said Silas.

“The working conditions are very difficult. You’re working short all the time, you’re never guaranteed registered nurses and often your only option is to send your patient to the hospital when often it’s not what they need and what’s best for them,” she said.

“And your personal care workers are not often permanent employees. They work casual or part time and they work in different facilities so there’s always a turnover.”

Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, said less than 50 per cent of staff in long-term care homes work in just one facility and support workers are also employed in multiple facilities.

“Some of them work in three places,” she said, adding a government directive during the SARS crisis in 2003 required nurses to work in only one facility to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said after announcing the death this week that an infected care aide from the same facility is believed to have worked at two other facilities.

“We know that whether it’s care workers or nurses, even physicians, we work in many different health authorities, many different facilities sometimes. That is part of the ongoing investigation at the Lynn Valley care home, to find out exactly where everybody worked and make sure that the other facilities are investigated.”

Silas said a big concern is the lack of employment insurance sick leave benefits for some support workers compared with nurses.

Business and other labour groups have urged the federal government to ease access to such benefits, which the government appears open to doing, along with tax credits and other breaks as part of the federal response.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has said the government was looking at taking some steps to help affected workers and the health-care system.

Jennifer Whiteside, spokeswoman for the Hospital Employees’ Union, said care aides in British Columbia work in a “fragmented” system, with some in part-time and casual jobs at various facilities run by either private contractors or health authorities.

Sick leave benefits may be as few as five to seven sick days a year versus 18 days offered by health authorities, Whiteside said, adding aides having to go into quarantine could face financial hardship because of their lower pay levels.

“Their sick leave will be wiped out. They won’t even have enough to cover one period of self (quarantine) should that become necessary and certainly not enough to cover them should they actually become sick ),” she said.

“If a large number get sick then we’ll be having some challenges. There’s no question that a situation like this does really bring into sharp relief some of the challenges we have in the system around how we manage the care-aide labour force.”

Isobel Mackenzie, advocate for seniors in British Columbia, said the job of care aides has long been undervalued and the novel coronavirus may create awareness about the need for change.

“I think what this is going to highlight, and this is a conversation for after we’ve dealt with the crisis, is the different ways in which these care homes are staffed. We need all licensed care homes to be doing things exactly the same under the direction of the officer of the public health officer,” she said.

“How are we going to deal with the fact that some people are going to get paid while they’re off sick and some people aren’t? How are we going to handle the fact that they are working potentially for multiple employers?”

The issue of care aides who travel to various private homes must also be considered for the safety of the wider community, Mackenzie said.

“That’s where we’re going to have to be ever vigilant around monitoring and managing the situation,” she said. “(They) may be providing (seniors) with their medications that they absolutely need and if we don’t go there they aren’t going to get their medications.”


Daphne Bramham: Canada’s other public health crisis also needs urgent attention

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There is a very real and deadly health crisis in B.C. from which two people died yesterday and two more will likely die today, tomorrow and the days after that.

It’s not COVID-19, and no news conference was hastily called to talk about it.

Most of those dead and dying are blue-collar guys in what should be the prime of their lives.

This is the reality as B.C. lurches into the fifth year of an opioid overdose crisis. It’s a seemingly unending emergency that by the end of 2019 had already killed 5,539 people here and more than 13,900 across Canada.

Five years in, this crisis has become normalized, with the only certainty as we face another day is that first responders are now better at resuscitating victims because, year over year, the calls have only continued to increase.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed his top ministers to a committee tasked with responding to the COVID-19 crisis. At that point, Canada had only 30 confirmed cases. Of the 21 B.C. cases, four of the patients have fully recovered.

Not to belittle the concerns about COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic, but with nearly 14,000 dead already, no committee — high-level or otherwise — has yet been struck to devise a national addictions strategy that would deal not only with opioids, but also the biggest killer, which is alcohol. A 2019 report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that 10 Canadians die every day from substance use, and three-quarters of those deaths are alcohol-related.

During the 2019 election, the issue flared briefly after Conservatives placed ads — mainly through ethnic media — claiming that Trudeau’s Liberals planned to legalize all drugs, including heroin.

Already beleaguered, Trudeau not only denied it, he quickly disavowed the resolution overwhelmingly passed at the party’s 2018 convention that called on the Canadian government to treat addiction as a health issue, expand treatment and harm reduction services, and decriminalize personal-use possession of all drugs, with people diverted away from the criminal courts and into treatment.

Trudeau disavowed it again this week when a Liberal backbencher’s private member’s bill was put on the order paper.

Liberal member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (in front) pictured in 2018.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Depending on how you read Bill C-236, it’s either calling for decriminalization or legalization. Regardless, the fact that Nathaniel Erskine-Smith’s bill will be debated at least gets it on the political agenda because unless there are some major changes, Canadians are going to continue dying at these unacceptably high rates that have already caused the national life expectancy to drop.

Erskine-Smith, an Ontario MP from the Beaches-East York riding, favours a Portugal-style plan of which decriminalization plays only a small part.

But parliamentary rules forbid private member’s bills from committing the government to any new spending, so he said his bill could only narrowly focus on decriminalization.

The slim bill says charges could be laid “only if … the individual cannot be adequately dealt with by a warning or referral (to a program agency or service provider) … or by way of alternative measures.”

Erskine-Smith disagreed with the suggestion that it gives too much discretionary power to police — especially since in B.C., it’s prosecutors, not police, who determine whether charges are laid.

Still, what he proposes is quite different from what happens in Portugal.

There, police have no discretionary power. People found with illicit drugs are arrested and taken to the police station where the drugs are weighed, and the person is either charged with possession and sent to court or diverted to the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Use to meet with social workers, therapists and addictions specialists who map out a plan.

Since private members’ bills rarely pass, Erskine-Smith doesn’t hold out much hope for his.

It created a firestorm on social media, with some recovery advocates pitted against advocates for harm reduction, including full legalization.


Federal Conservatives also repeated their trope that drug legalization is part of Trudeau’s secret agenda.

Meanwhile, Alberta’s United Conservative government inflamed some harm-reduction advocates with the release of a report on the adverse social and economic impacts of safe consumption sites, even though it didn’t recommend shutting them down.

The report acknowledged that they play an important role in a continuum of care, but it also called for beefed-up enforcement to lessen the chaos that often surrounds them.

The committee questioned some data provided to them that suggested Lethbridge — population 92,730 — may be the world’s most-used injection site.

The committee also questioned why some operators report all adverse events, including non-life-threatening ones as overdoses, leaving the impression that without the sites “thousands of people would have fatally overdosed.”

Among its recommendations are better data collection using standardized definitions as well as better tracking of users to determine whether they are being referred to other services.

More than a year ago, Canadians overwhelmingly told the Angus Reid Institute that they supported mandatory treatment for opioid addiction.

Nearly half said they were willing to consider decriminalization. Nearly half also said that neither Ottawa nor the provinces were doing enough to ease the epidemic.

It seems Canadians are eager for change even if they’re not yet certain what it should look like. The only ones who seem reluctant are the politicians.



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Two B.C. post-secondary schools close over COVID-19 case

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A student tries to enter University Canada West in Vancouver on Thursday. The school is closing for three days for disinfection after two students were potentially exposed to the new coronavirus.

Jason Payne / PNG

COVID-19 could be a “gut shot” to B.C. schools and universities that rely on fees from international students, an immigration expert said Thursday, as two private post-secondary schools in Vancouver closed their doors because of a case of the novel coronavirus.

University Canada West said a student is in quarantine after being visited by her father. The father tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving from overseas for a visit and developing symptoms, according to Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer. The student’s roommate is also in quarantine.

The business school and an arts and design school in the same building on West Pender Street will be closed for three days to do a deep cleaning.

“Students and staff who may have been in close contact with the affected students have been identified and contacted with information and advice,” said a UCW media release.

B.C. schools and universities said the coronavirus outbreak hasn’t significantly affected their international student programs, but administrators are monitoring the situation with an eye toward September enrolment.

At Simon Fraser University, a university-wide planning group is looking at possible impacts from the virus, including finances, said Angela Wilson, senior director of media relations and public affairs. SFU has not seen declining enrolment since visa offices have been closed in China and Iran, but they are monitoring the situation closely.

UBC has not seen any enrolment drops, but the situation is constantly evolving, said the director of university affairs, Matthew Ramsey.

UBC is working with prospective international students on a “case by case basis” to help those who may be experiencing difficulties getting their applications together, extending some deadlines to the end of March.

Ramsey could not say how many applications have been affected. UBC typically doesn’t have solid enrolment numbers until November.

“We are watching this really, really carefully,” he said about the virus, adding the university is following the advice of Canadian health authorities, including the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

In January, UBC created a working group of people from across campus to discuss issues related to the virus, including how classes and exams might be offered using technology if attendance was no longer advisable.

Impacts on the Vancouver school district’s international student program “are minimal at present,” according to a statement provided to Postmedia.

“VSB programs are linear and the majority of international students arrive in August to study here. Given our enrolment timelines, it’s too early to provide enrolment details (for the) next school year.”

But Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said the coronavirus should be a concern for schools and universities as the closure of some Canadian visa application centres abroad will make it difficult for students hoping to attend school here.

“Canadian schools are about to experience a cash crunch,” he said. “Stopping the visa application centres is like shutting off the water flow. They might not feel it yet, but it’s coming.”

Kurland said international students who are currently studying in Canada may not be able to return home. Students are not allowed to work more than 20 hours per week off campus.

“That should be lifted immediately. They should be entitled to work to support themselves,” he said.

Several school districts have cancelled field trips because of the virus, including Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby. Overseas trips have been cancelled as well as those to New York City, Seattle, Burlington and Vancouver, Washington.

Also this week, the annual Asia-Pacific Association for International Education conference scheduled to be held in Vancouver later this month was postponed to March 2021. More than 2,500 people were registered to attend, said a news release.

In 2018, the B.C. government said the province had attracted more foreign students per capita than anywhere else in Canada — 130,000 in total — stating they inject $2 billion each year into the economy, creating 29,000 jobs.

In 2016, 28 per cent of UBC’s first-year contingent were foreign students.

A report on B.C. international students published in 2018 found that 13.7 per cent of post-secondary students in B.C. in 2016-17 were from outside Canada, as well as 7.7 per cent of the graduating Grade 12s. China (38 per cent) and India (21 per cent) were the two main sources of international students studying in B.C.


With Postmedia files




Watching, wiping and waiting: How our institutions are protecting us from coronavirus

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As the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads, you will be increasingly unwelcome in public with a cough or the sniffles as transit users and shoppers are actively avoiding people with respiratory symptoms.

Six people have now died in the Seattle area as the global death toll tops 3,000, and it’s making people edgy.

“I jumped off a bus” after a woman coughing and sniffling behind a surgical mask got on with suitcases, said transit rider Tom Sewid. “I asked if she just arrived from China and she said yes, Wuhan.”

“Bus driver, let me off,” he said. “He stopped and others got off as well and we waited for the next bus.”

People responding to questions on social media admitted to running away from symptomatic people in Costco, avoiding people wearing surgical masks and recounted seeing bus drivers scold passengers to “please cough into your sleeve.”

“TransLink is following the lead of health officials when it comes to response to COVID-19,” the company said. “Provincial Health Services says the risk to our customers and staff remains low and it has not directed us to make any operational changes at this time.”

Buses and trains are disinfected “regularly.”

Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry suggested more frequent cleaning on public transit and increasing the availability of hand sanitizer “so, if there is a lot of virus in the environment, it can be cleaned up before people touch their faces and (infect) themselves.”

B.C. Ferries is taking advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada and B.C. Centre for Disease Control regarding COVID-19 coronavirus.

“We have standard procedures in place to mitigate the spread of illness on our ferries and at our terminals,” said a spokesperson. “As a precaution, crews at our terminals and on board our vessels are taking extra measures to clean all touch points.”

Students at UBC take precautions and wear surgical masks on Monday. Building operations staff are cleaning touch surfaces such as door knobs and faucets on a daily basis.

Jason Payne /


People who are experiencing cold or flu symptoms should probably avoid transit and self-isolate to do what they can to avoid spreading COVID-19 coronavirus, said Stephen Hoption Cann, a clinical professor in the School of Population and Public Health at UBC.

“When I teach, I notice a lot more students are deciding not to come to class with cold symptoms, because it’s just unwelcome to be coughing,” he said. “Before they might have just toughed it out.”

As COVID-19 is detected in more countries, the virus will become harder to contain, he said. New cases are leaking out of Egypt, which hadn’t been thought to have widespread infection until now.

UBC has installed additional hand-sanitizing stations in high traffic areas across campus, said Matthew Ramsey, UBC’s director of university affairs. “We are reminding everyone in our community again today what the proper procedures are for limiting the spread of illness.”

Building operations staff are cleaning touch surfaces such as door knobs and faucets on a daily basis.

“The cleaning protocols were changed after the SARS outbreak to recognize the need to be more vigilant,” he said.

The car-sharing firm Evo has warned its members not use their cars when they are ill and launched a feature this week allowing members to rate the cleanliness of vehicles to determine which cars need extra cleaning.

Evo cleans each vehicle once a week, but has started using “extra disinfectant,” said Richard Gaspar, Evo’s senior manager of business operations.


The provincial health officer is reviewing the criteria for managing crowd events.

“They are cancelling sporting events in Italy and that’s something you do if you aren’t sure whether (a virus) can be contained,” said Henry.

The H1N1 outbreak of 2009 came close to imperilling the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, she noted.

“We weren’t preparing for a pandemic necessarily, but if the Olympics had been scheduled for November 2009 we would have been in serious danger of cancelling or postponing,” she said. “You need a lot of (Intensive Care Unit) capacity to support the Olympics and that is what Tokyo is looking at right now.”

As COVID-19 outbreaks spread beyond the 50 countries already reporting confirmed cases, containment will become increasingly difficult, said Theresa Tam, chief public health officer for Canada.

“As the number of countries that are affected increase, border measures actually become less effective … and less feasible,” she said. “We are trying to identify individual travellers linked to affected countries, so public health is spending a lot of attention and been very effective taking on individual cases.”

Border entry points provide a moment for education of travellers and those messages are already “expanding and shifting as we speak,” she added.

Travellers are being asked to present themselves to border service agents if they have any symptoms so they can be assessed.

“So far in Canada, this approach has worked very well,” she said.


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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…




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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.





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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