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B.C. just announced a public health emergency. What does that mean?

Click to play video 'B.C. health officials declare a public health emergency over COVID-19 pandemic' B.C. health officials declare a public health emergency over COVID-19 pandemic
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced on Tuesday at a press conference that British Columbia has declared a state of emergency to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 cases – Mar 17, 2020

British Columbia has announced a public health emergency due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Government officials made the announcement Tuesday after announcing 83 new cases of COVID-19 in B.C. and three new deaths.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said it’s the second time such a declaration has been put into effect. The province declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency in 2016. That declaration is still in effect.

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So what does it mean to declare a public health emergency?

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“In practical terms, it means that the provincial health officer can issue verbal orders… with immediate effect,” Dix explained Tuesday.

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As an example, Dix cited Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s order to close all bars and clubs in B.C. effective immediately.

Dix said the provincial health officer can have peace officers enforce her verbal orders.

He added the declaration of a public health emergency also allows health officers to perform their duties anywhere in the province and not just in the region they work in.

The health minister can amend regulations without the consent of the cabinet, and make changes to the Public Health Act without the consent of the legislature.

— With files from Simon Little