The province has suspended all local states of emergency specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, and announced sweeping measures Thursday to prevent the hoarding and resale of food items and medical goods effective immediately.
In addition, B.C. is stepping up efforts to enforce social distancing and the closure of certain public and business spaces, enabling municipal bylaw officers to enforce provincial laws and issue fines.
”We are at a critical juncture, and we need to ask ourselves if we are doing our part and following the orders of Dr. Bonnie Henry,” Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said. “And it has become clear that these additional steps are necessary... Dr. Henry’s orders are not suggestions or good advice; they are the law.”
In order to “avoid anxiety” and centralize the coordination of COVID-19 responses to the province, Farnworth also said all municipal states of emergency have been suspended.
The suspension includes Fort St. John, which made an emergency declaration on Tuesday. All states of emergency are suspended except for the City of Vancouver.
Municipalities are also now asked to identify public facilities that may be available for COVID-19 response if those steps are necessary.
Farnworth has issued new ministerial orders relating to the supply chain and consumer protection, and travel, including:
Establishing a new Provincial Supply Chain Coordination Unit to co-ordinate goods and services distribution; taking a more active role in co-ordinating essential goods and services movement by land, air, marine and rail; and suspending any bylaws that restrict goods delivery at any time of day.
Banning the secondary resale of food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment, cleaning and other essential supplies; and restricting quantities of items purchased at point of sale.
Enabling municipal bylaw officers to support enforcement of the provincial health officer's orders for business closures and gatherings, in line with offences under the Public Health Act.
Ensuring all passenger and car-ferry services provide minimum service levels and priority access for residents, and essential goods and workers.
Making it easier to support critical services for vulnerable people, like food banks and shelters.
Suspending local states of emergency specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, except for the City of Vancouver; giving municipal councils the ability to hold more flexible meetings to expedite decisions; and co-ordinating potential use of local publicly owned facilities, like community centres, for self-isolation, testing, medical care, warehousing and distribution.
There does appear to be an outstanding issue as it relates to industry and fly-in resource workers, which was largely the concern of Fort St. John council when it made its emergency declaration this week, and the potential for industry to overwhelm local health care resources.
"From the beginning, I said that the SOLE’s [State of Local Emergency] would be redundant with the province coming out with their orders," Mayor Lori Ackerman said.
"The last issue is the industry/community and I have sent an email to the province regarding that. When I hear, I will let Council and the media know."
This is a developing story.
— with files from Business in Vancouver