British Columbia’s top doctor will seek to formally ban gatherings of more than 250 people as part of the province’s efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made the statement as she announced 11 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday, three of them linked to Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver. B.C. now has 64 confirmed cases.
Henry said issuing an official order banning mass gatherings will allow organizers to recoup costs through insurance.
She also clarified her earlier recommendation to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada, saying travel to transport goods and people into the country, such as travel by long-haul truckers and airline crews, is allowed.
Those workers will not be subject to the 14-day isolation period required of international travellers entering the country. However, they will need to take added precautions and avoid the public as much as possible.
“They need to have an active monitoring program,” Henry said. “They need to have access to clean their hands regularly, enhanced infection control on trucks, on ferries, on airplanes. Those are all measures that are being put in place.”
Ramping up testing
As of Friday, B.C. had tested more than 6,300 people for COVID-19, a jump of more than 4,000 tests in a week that Health Minister Adrian Dix called “an extraordinary achievement.”
Dix said health authorities will roll out referral-only test clinics in the coming days. The first such clinic was announced in the Island Health Region on Friday.
“It’s not for everybody and it would not be useful for people who are not symptomatic to have tests at all.”
Dix said the province is looking at a variety of other options, including drive-through test sites, but would not give further details until facilities were ready to go.
Henry added that the province may not even test some people returning from travel who feel sick. She said those people should self-isolate and call 811 or their doctor for advice.
“We need to prioritize the people who need to have a COVID-19 test and you may not need to have a test,” she said.
11 new cases
Friday saw the single largest jump in new B.C. cases since the outbreak began.
The three new hospital cases are all administrative workers at Lions Gate Hospital, said Henry, adding that an investigation is underway to determine the source of the infection.
All three workers are in isolation.
Five of the new cases are related to travel, including, for the first time, cases linked to the Philippines and Mexico, said Henry.
Henry added that one of the new cases identified Friday is a close contact of a health-care worker at North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley Care Centre who was previously diagnosed with COVID-19.
The investigation into how the virus got into the Lynn Valley Care Centre and West Vancouver’s Hollyburn House care centre is still underway.
“We don’t have the definitive answer yet, but it’s becoming clearer,” said Henry.
“This is transmitted through close contact. And we know workers have close contact with each other, they also have close contact with the residents.”
B.C. has now identified 39 cases in the Vancouver Coastal Health Region, 23 in the Fraser Health Region, one in the Island Health Region and one in the Interior Health Region.
Six people have fully recovered from the disease, and one person has died.
On Friday, federal officials also urged all Canadians to cancel non-essential international travel, and suspended the cruise ship season until July.
Officials also said they were restricting international air travel to a handful of airports.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who remains in isolation after his wife was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Thursday, said the federal government is also preparing a fiscal stimulus package to help Canadians and businesses.
U.S. President Donald Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency on Friday, freeing up US$50 billion to support state and local governments in stopping the spread of the virus.
On Thursday, B.C. officials called on event organizers to cancel all gatherings of more than 250 people.