B.C. health minister Adrian Dix reveals 3,632 acute care beds are now empty in preparation for COVID-19 cases

He made the comment during a legislature debate on a $5-billion relief package for businesses and residents

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      With only 12 MLAs in the B.C. legislature yesterday—a minimum for a quorum—two bills sailed through three readings and received royal assent.

      They will enable the province to proceed with a $5-billion plan to support residents and businesses feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

      But the biggest news during the debate may have been Health Minister Adrian Dix's revelation regarding measures taken to respond to a growing case load.

      He said that in the last two weeks, the province has created 3,632 empty acute-care hospital beds in B.C. to prepare for what's to come.

      He noted that normally, these beds would be running at over 100 percent capacity in flu season.

      "I don't have any expectation of any relief from the extraordinary measures that the provincial health officer has imposed on British Columbians and the measures that we have to 100 percent comply with now to, as people say, bend the curve," Dix said. "But to ensure that our resources are sufficient to manage the situation in British Columbia, I don't see any prospect before the end of April of those orders changing."

      In the legislature, Cowichan Valley Green MLA Sonia Furstenau asked Dix what's being done to ensure that homeless people have access to handwashing or sanitization stations.

      He responded that 11 new handwashing facilities have been set up in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.

      But he offered no indication that these stations will be available elsewhere in the province for people living outside.

      "For those in shelters, B.C. Housing is sharing new handwashing protocols with providers, including handwashing when guests arrive, before they leave, and before and after eating," Dix added. "The province is also supporting enhanced daily cleaning in a number of SROs and shelters.

      "This is only a start. The funding that was announced today by the premier and the minister of finance will continue to support these kinds of critical needs in the communities, and our Vulnerable Population Working Group is working urgently with communities to identify those needs."

      Furstenau also asked how victims of domestic violence can be supported if they're isolated with their abusers at home.

      Finance Minister Carole James fielded this question, saying the government has set aside $1.7 billion for "critical services".

      James also said that the province is working with B.C. Housing to look at alternative plans, including hotels, for victims of domestic violence.

      "The member will know, as part of the package today, that we confirmed that not-for-profits that contract with government will continue to get those services, even if they're having to change their distribution of those services and how they provide them," James added. That's going to be in place as well."

      As part of the government's relief package, there will be a one-time payment of $1,000 for people who lose income due to COVID-19.

      In addition, B.C. student loan payments have been halted for six months; B.C. Hydro customers can defer bills or arrange for flexible payment plans; customers who lose jobs due to COVID-19 are eligible for grants up to $600 to pay hydro bills; and ICBC customers can defer auto insurance payments for 90 days if they're on monthly installment pla

      For businesses, the employer health tax, provincial sales taxes, municipal and regional taxes, and 50 percent of school taxes on most commercial properties can be deferred until September 30.

      Under changes to the Employment Standards Act, no employee can be fired for following an order of the provincial health officer or for caring for children because a school is closed.