Businesses and communities in Northern B.C. are grappling with tough new COVID-19 restrictions implemented this week as the region struggles to contain surging transmission of the virus.
Lagging vaccination rates and the province’s highest per-capita daily new case counts prompted the province to implement a suite of new restrictions this week across most of the Northern Health region.
Restrictions include requiring that people be fully vaccinated to enter any place where the BC Vaccine Card applies, a 10 p.m. end to liquor sales, and the closure of liquor-serving businesses that don’t also serve food.
“The timing is always poor, the notice is terrible. The impact on my business, I mean, I fly people in to entertain, my staffing — trying to hire to get caught back up and then being shut back down,” Troy McKenzie, owner of Prince George’s Black Clover Irish Pub, said.
“There’s a lot of decisions made by the province that really affect people. We’re not in a conversation, these things are handed out and we have to deal with them.”
Todd Corrigal, CEO of the Prince George Chamber of Commerce, said there was no question the region’s vaccination rates could improve — the latest round of restrictions have left already struggling businesses in the lurch.
“While we can appreciate the need to move forward with a strong vaccine program and find out what our path forward looks like, strong levers like this being pulled and being implemented near immediately are incredibly challenging once again to pivot towards,” he said.
Just six per cent of B.C.’s population lives in the Northern Health region, but over the past week, it has accounted for about a quarter of all COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the province.
Earlier this week, health officials were forced to airlift 58 patients to hospitals in the Lower Mainland to make room in northern intensive care units.
Forty-five of those were COVID-19 patients, only one of whom was fully vaccinated.
Mike Bernier, BC Liberal MLA for the northeastern B.C. riding of Peace-River South said the last thing he wanted to see was another circuit breaker, but acknowledged vaccinating against COVID-19 has been a problem in the region.
“Up in this region, we have a lot of strong-willed people who just do not like anything that they’re being told by government and do not trust government in general, especially an NDP government in my part of the world,” he said.
“We’re just over 50 per cent now (in Peace River South) with at least two vaccines. We’ve got a long way to go.”
But Bernier said implementing new restrictions without any additional provincial help could create challenges of its own.
He said local communities don’t have the resources to enforce the restrictions, meaning businesses who do follow the rules aren’t operating on a level playing field.
He added that during previous circuit breakers, the province has provided financial assistance to affected businesses, something that could ease the sting of the latest round of restrictions.
“If government is going to keep implementing these rules that affect business — and maybe rightfully so to stop transmission — but it isn’t the fault of the businesses, what are we going to do to help them so they can financially get through this?” he asked.
The Northern B.C. restrictions will be in place until at least Nov. 19, but could be extended if case counts stay high and vaccination rates continue to lag.View link »