B.C. Premier John Horgan is backtracking on comments he made Monday about young people and the rise in COVID-19 cases.
In a tweet Tuesday afternoon, Horgan said his number one concern is to protect people from COVID-19.
“I’m trying to catch the attention of the few who refuse to follow the public health restrictions,” he said. “To the vast majority of young people doing everything they can: thank you.”
Backlash was swift on Monday after the premier told a news conference that those aged 20 to 39 do not pay as much attention to the health briefings with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix, and that that puts everyone else in a “challenging situation.”
“I’m appealing to young people to curtail your social activity,” Horgan had said. “The directions will be quite clear from Dr. Henry.
“But my appeal to you is: do not blow this for the rest of us. Do not blow this for your parents and your neighbours and others who have been working really, really hard, making significant sacrifices so we can get good outcomes for everybody.”
Horgan went on to tweet Tuesday that Henry had expressed concern about the rise in cases in the 20- to 39-year-old age group and said contact-tracing shows indoor gatherings are a recent driver of increased transmission.
“No question, most young people have made tremendous sacrifices to fight COVID-19,” the premier tweeted.
“They’re also more often working front-line jobs or living with roommates. Reports of more young people getting sicker due to new variants have kept us up at night.”
Justin Kulik, former NDP candidate in the 2020 election in Kelowna-Lake Country, said earlier Tuesday he would like Horgan to apologize for what he said.
“It’s easy to point fingers but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing to do,” he told 980 CKNW’s Mike Smyth.
“In this situation, the premier is pointing fingers without data to back it up.”
According to data from the BC Centre for Disease Control, cases of people in their 20s accounted for 22.6 per cent of the total case numbers in the first year of the pandemic. Cases in the same cohort since March 13 have risen to just 24.1 per cent of the total case numbers.
B.C. officials on Monday reported 2,518 new cases of COVID-19 over the past three days, along with six new deaths.
There were 936 cases from Friday to Saturday, the highest single-day figure recorded in the province.
In addition, there were 805 cases were reported from Saturday to Sunday, and 777 from Sunday to Monday.
The seven-day average for new cases in B.C. has risen to 803. A week ago, it stood at 600.
The numbers come as the province announced new restrictions in an attempt to curb the transmission of COVID-19.
Kulik, who is almost 20 years old, said it is also important to consider the vaccine rates and how the majority of British Columbians who have been vaccinated have been seniors and the older population.
“It is young people who are being told, ‘Hey, thanks for being essential workers’ but also ‘smarten up’ because for some reason, without data to back it up, we’re going to point the finger at you,” he added.
“It’s being heard by British Columbians, it’s being amplified by British Columbians, regardless of age, and I think it’s important that the premier can recognize that this is not constructive language and it’s harmful to these essential workers who have been on the front lines for over a year.”
Heidi Tworek, an associate professor of history and public policy at UBC, said Horgan’s comments were concerning because they fall into the “blame game.”
“If we start blaming a certain group of people for the number of cases, etc, there are all sorts of potential fallout from that.
“One is the backlash we’ve been seeing over the last 24 hours but the other is it could really discourage young people from wanting to get tested because they’ll feel they’ll be shamed if they have COVID and could potentially make them feel less likely to participate in contact tracing.”
Tworek said it would affect the ability to fight COVID-19 in the long-term.
“There’s always a great deal of uncertainty in public health because it depends on people’s behaviours,” she said, although added she thinks more transparency around messaging from public health officials is needed.