VANCOUVER — British Columbia's provincial health officer offered support Friday to health-care workers in the province that has the highest number of COVID-19 cases, saying there are enough supplies for them to safely do their jobs.
Dr. Bonnie Henry provided the assurance as she reported 77 new cases of the virus, for a total of 348 people now infected in B.C., compared with 318 cases in Ontario.
"We know that hundreds of people have been safely cared for by our health-care worker teams here in Vancouver, here in B.C., here in Canada over the last few months," she told a news conference.
Henry said 18 of the two dozen health-care workers who contracted the virus in B.C. worked at the Lynn Valley Care Centre, where 36 residents have been sickened. Seven elderly people have died at the facility.
She said about two dozen people providing essential health services around the province have been diagnosed with the virus, though most of the cases are mild, requiring no hospitalization.
While employees of long-term care homes typically rotate through various facilities, Henry said once an outbreak is declared staff are assigned to a single facility to protect them.
Retired nurses and doctors are providing relief where needed and the elimination of elective surgeries has also freed up more health-care workers, she said, adding health workers are dedicated to challenging jobs as the virus spreads.
Health Minister Adrian Dix echoed Henry's sentiments, saying child-care will be provided so health-care workers can continue doing a vital job under safe conditions.
"I want to say this directly to doctors, to nurses, to care aides, to those who keep our hospitals clean and safe, to food-support workers and everyone else on the front line: We are grateful, we are enormously grateful for all your efforts."
Henry also ordered all restaurants in the province to close except for take-out and delivery service.
In Vancouver, Mayor Kennedy Stewart ordered restaurants to stop offering dine-in service before the province took that step.
"The latest numbers continue to demonstrate that despite the extraordinary efforts of federal, provincial and local governments, we are one of the hardest hit regions in the country," Stewart said.
As of Thursday, the Vancouver Coastal Health region had 56 per cent of COVID-19 cases in B.C. and 18 per cent of all cases in the country, he said.
"That is why we need to keep taking bold action."
The provincial government ordered all bars and nightclubs to close earlier this week.
Stewart said many non-essential businesses and services are already limiting the number of people permitted inside, switching to delivery or making the difficult decision to close.
"My message to all retailers who remain open is this: Now is the time to take aggressive action (and) do your part to limit the spread of COVID-19. If we continue to see non-essential retailers and service providers ignoring our new reality, we will not hesitate to take further action."
Liquor stores in British Columbia, meanwhile, are adjusting their hours but will remain open. The provincial government says hours are changing at BC Liquor Stores so that staff can do additional cleaning to minimize the risk to employees and customers from COVID-19.
When necessary, the number of customers allowed in stores will also be limited to maintain self-distancing.
The government says there are no shortages of beer, wine or spirits but the stores have not been able to keep shelves stocked because of an increase in sales.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2020.
Camille Bains and Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press