In their harshest criticism of government and health officials yet, the BC Greens are calling on the province to reverse course and put in place stricter COVID-19 measures.
The two-person caucus of leader Sonia Furstenau and MLA Adam Olsen is calling on the government to urgently create a clear and targeted shutdown strategy for a three-week period.
The shutdown would include enforcing non-essential travel measures, moving school online for most students and providing immediate government support to temporarily close non-essential businesses.
“Earlier this spring, I said it felt like government was not rising to the fight in light of rising case numbers. Now it is feeling like they are forfeiting the fight altogether,” Furstenau said.
“We were not dealt a bad hand — we loosened restrictions despite rising variant cases, allowed out-of-province travel, stalled in-school mask mandates, and did not enforce orders or tailor messaging to hit those who have not been following orders. This third wave is the outcome of that inaction.”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has been reluctant to put in place additional measures over the last week as the daily case average continues to climb towards 1,000 new cases per day. The province currently has restrictions on social gatherings, events, in-person dining and in-person religious gatherings.
Henry told reporters on Tuesday “we can get through this surge as well” and “it’s the hand that we’ve been dealt” and the only way through it is working together.
The Greens say this kind of messaging is no longer working and it cannot be up to individuals to deal with this crisis.
The two-person caucus is also calling for daily COVID-19 briefings, publishing case numbers on weekends and holidays, extending the length of media availabilities and adopting new messaging outside of press conferences to target non-compliers.
“Variants of concern will soon make up the majority of our cases. Government needs to explain why they are not adapting to the changing reality of this virus by tailoring their vaccination rollout to target young people. Instead of tolerating high rolling averages, we should adopt a COVID-zero strategy,” Furstenau said.
“British Columbians are angry, they are anxious, and they are scared. It is not enough to ask those who are still listening to get through the next couple of months. We urgently need a shift in government response. Instead of bracing for the impact of rising variants, we can mitigate it right now.
Health officials have described the current phase as a race between vaccines and variants.
Frustenau says in order for B.C. to be competitive in this race, the province must increase vaccination and testing capacity.
This includes expanding asymptomatic testing and rapid testing in workplaces, schools, businesses and neighbourhoods. It also includes improving reporting on variants of concern and increasing staffing at vaccination clinics and extending hours to administer all doses as soon as they arrive in the province.
There have been a few days over the last week where variant of concern numbers were not available to the public due to challenges at the sequencing labs.
Premier John Horgan has often stated that public health decisions are up to public health and Henry. The Greens are asking the premier to reconsider this and take a more active role in the overall decision-making.
“British Columbians are looking for leadership, not complacency. It is time for the NDP to take ownership of the immense power they hold,” Furstenau said.
“They must take responsibility for our pandemic response, be willing to take bold action, and make the tough calls to protect all British Columbians. We need to step up and fight for the health of our province. If we do this now, and do this right, we will all be stronger for it in the near future.”