VICTORIA — British Columbia has declared a public health emergency after reporting three new COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday.
The province now has had seven fatalities during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, said six of the deaths stem from a care home in North Vancouver.
A man in his 80s died on Monday in hospital in the Fraser Health region, she told a news conference.
The province also recorded 83 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases in B.C. to 186.
The province took steps to try to control the spread of the virus on Tuesday, announcing that school is out indefinitely.
And Premier John Horgan promised help for businesses and workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Education Minister Rob Fleming said his ministry is working with school districts and teachers on a plan to continue learning for students from kindergarten to Grade 12, but not in classrooms.
``We have to take action today to protect our students and staff,″ Fleming said at a news conference with Horgan and Finance Minister Carole James.
Fleming said the suspension of classes will not affect students who are scheduled to graduate this spring. He said all students who are on course to graduate from Grade 12, and those progressing to the next grade, will do so.
It isn’t known when students will return to school, Fleming added.
“We don’t have all the answers today,” he said. “We’re in a fast moving situation. We will return to regular school life down the road.”
Horgan said a provincial relief plan will be finalized in the next day or two to help companies and workers deal with COVID-19.
He said financial security, the education system and co-operation among governments are three top concerns for people as the pandemic response unfolds.
“It’s a go big or go home environment,” Horgan said. “It seems to me this is a crisis situation and we need an appropriate response.”
He said the province is waiting for the final details of the federal government’s plan before it releases its approach. Horgan said he expects federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau to announce changes to help businesses and workers Wednesday.
The premier said there will be financial support for businesses and changes to the Employment Standards Act to prevent workers from being laid off if they are required to stay at home to self-isolate.
“We want to make sure that no one loses their job by doing the right thing,” Horgan said. “Today we are talking about the plan and the path forward. The details of that really have to wait until we see what the federal government has done so that we can complement that work.”
Horgan also pressed the federal government to ensure it changes employment insurance regulations to help workers, especially self-employed and people working in the service industry.
We want to make sure that no one loses their job by doing the right thing.John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia
“We want to make sure they are expanding those provisions to capture those individuals, but also recognize that there needs to be closer to full wages rather than half wages or three-quarters wages depending on what the circumstances are,” he said. “We want flexibility from the federal government on these questions.”
Horgan also said the government is consulting with the Opposition Liberals and the Green party about ways to introduce and debate employment protection legislation without requiring a full slate in legislature. He said the legislature could work on a quorum system as opposed to having all 85 members in the building.
Finance Minister Carole James, who introduced a surplus budget last month, said COVID-19 will hit B.C.’s bottom line.
“It is likely we will have a deficit,” she said. “There’s no question about that.”
The number of businesses affected by the pandemic continued to mount on Tuesday.
LNG Canada is cutting its workforce in half over the next several days on the construction of a new plant in Kitimat, B.C., to help local communities deal with COVID-19 out of an abundance of caution.
The company says most of the cuts are being made by reducing the number of workers flying in on rotation but, if necessary, staff could be cut to levels required only to maintain site security and environmental controls.
LNG Canada is a consortium of five global energy companies, including PetroChina and South Korea’s KOGAS, building a $40-billion liquefied natural gas production and export facility.
One of the most popular ski resorts in North America is also shutting down in the face of COVID-19 restrictions against large groups and close contact. Vail Resorts, the U.S. owner of several ski hills including Whistler-Blackcomb, says the B.C. resort and all its properties are closing.
More than half a dozen other ski resorts across B.C. have also announced closures.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2020