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BC Blasts Trudeau’s Decision Not to Close US Border

Number of cases in province jumps to 103; four deaths reported.

Moira Wyton 16 Mar

Moira Wyton is health reporter for The Tyee. Follow her @moirawyton or reach her here. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

Provincial health officials have challenged the federal government to ban visitors from the United States.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on foreign travellers earlier today in a briefing on the COVID-19 virus. But the ban exempted visitors from the U.S.

Trudeau said the level of integration between the two countries makes extending the ban to the U.S. too difficult at this point, and the government has been in close contact with American health officials.

Visitors from the U.S. — and Canadian citizens, residents and family members returning to the country — will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days, he said.

In a briefing less than an hour later, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the travel ban should have included the United States.

“We remain concerned that access from visitors in the U.S. continues to be allowed,” Dix said. The federal government should be taking “strong action at the border,” he added. 

Instead of self-isolating, U.S. travellers should stay home, he added.

A number of Canadian cases have been linked to people who were recently in the U.S. Washington state is a major COVID-19 hotspot, with 769 confirmed cases and 42 deaths. Reports of dangerously low testing rates and long wait times for results in the U.S. are causing concern among health experts in Canada.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry revealed today that B.C. has 103 cases and four people have died. All the deaths are linked to an outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, a seniors residence in North Vancouver.

Henry agreed with the call for a ban on entries from the U.S.

“We don’t want people coming to visit that might be putting people here at risk of COVID-19,” said Henry.

At least four of B.C.’s 30 new cases have been linked to a dental conference in Vancouver March 6 and 7.

Henry also announced a tighter ban on gatherings. The government had banned gatherings of more than 250 people last week, but reduced the limit to 50 people today. She also said casinos would be ordered to close.

And Dix announced the cancellation of all elective surgeries across the province to ensure hospitals have the capacity to deal with an expected increase in the number of patients requiring treatment for COVID-19.

The government will also allow pharmacists to renew prescriptions without requiring a note from a doctor and increase long-term care bed capacity, he said.

Henry said there is still time to slow the spread of the virus.

“It’s not inevitable that we are going to get major surges,” she said, adding that this was a critical time to take action — including a travel ban on U.S. visitors.

“But if we’re all doing what we need to do with social distancing and self-isolation… we can flatten that curve and we can manage,” she added. “This is not forever, but it is important for now and for the foreseeable future.”

The province has not made a decision on closing schools or child-care centres, she said.

Trudeau announced a number of measures, including pre-flight health screening for all passengers returning to Canada. People with symptoms of the virus won’t be allowed to return, he said.

And he urged anyone outside the country to cut short any plans and return to Canada as soon as possible.

The federal government has also limited international arrivals — again excluding flights from the U.S. — to four airports: Vancouver International, Toronto Pearson, Calgary International and Montreal Trudeau.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, Coronavirus

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