COVID-19 in B.C.: Health Minister answers border questions, calls for condemnation of anti-Asian attacks

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      The number of new cases in the province announced at today’s daily B.C. COVID-19 update is one of the lowest since the beginning of the pandemic.

      Meanwhile, both B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix responded to questions about B.C.'s borders with the U.S. and Alberta, as well as the increasing reports about anti-Asian attacks.

      Daily update

      Today (May 19), Dr. Henry confirmed there are only two new cases, bringing the cumulative provincial total to 2,446 cases.

      So far, there have been 883 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,196 in Fraser Health, 126 in Island Health, 181 in Interior Health, and 60 in Northern Health.

      There are 325 active cases, with 45 individuals in hospital and 12 of those patients in intensive care units.

      There aren’t any new outbreaks and there remain 14 active outbreaks in longterm care facilities and five in acute care units, involving 326 residents and 203 staff.

      Sadly, there are three new deaths (one in Vancouver Coastal Health and two in Fraser Health), which brings the total fatalities to 145 individuals.

      There have now been 1,975 recoveries.

      Anti-Asian attacks

      When asked about the acts of vandalism and assaults against Asian people taking place in B.C., and particularly in Metro Vancouver, Dr. Henry said she is “incredibly sad” whenever she hears these stories and about the “underlying racism that it exposes”.

      “I know that people in B.C. are better than that,” she said.

      While Dr. Henry asked for kindness, Dix took a firmer stance by asking citizens to help counter racism.

      “I think we have to do what we’ve been doing…which is to call out acts of racism for what they are,” he said. “They are themselves something devastating to civil society, to the way we want to be as a province, and I think we need to condemn them specifically, we need to condemn them always, and we need to build communities that are more resilient.”

      Previously, B.C. Minister of Citizens Services and Multiculturalism Anne Kang, Premier John Horgan, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart made statements in recent weeks about the anti-Asian attacks. Also, numerous Asian screen stars from Vancouver are participating in antiracism awareness campaigns to counter the discrimination.

      Dix pointed out that no one appears to be pointing a finger at Americans, despite their struggles with the virus, and that the virus transcends boundaries as it is in all of the countries of the world.

      He also noted that racism is an obstacle in the recovery from the pandemic.

      “This is something as a world we have to come together to deal with, as a province we have to come together to deal with, and it seems to me that racism represents the opposite of what we need to do, something we need to condemn, something that undermines everything we’re trying to do together as a society,” he said. “I think that overall…the call for kindness that’s come from Dr. Henry has been overall reciprocated in B.C. society in remarkable ways…but part of that action that we have to take together is to ensure that where we see injustice and racism that we condemn it and we condemn it every time.”

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry

      Border closures

      Several questions were asked about the status of borders, both interprovincial and international, in order to prevent the spread of the virus from other jurisdictions.

      British Columbians have previously been affected by the Kearl Lake oilsands outbreak in Alberta when workers returned from there to B.C.

      When asked if the B.C.-Alberta border should be closed to prevent more cases coming from Alberta, Dr. Henry said that it is “not practical” to have restrictions within Canada.

      She once again reminded people that it is important not to assume where a person is from based on license plates, as many British Columbians have Alberta license plates and may work on either side of the border.

      She added that for many people in southern B.C., the closest healthcare is located in Alberta, and she also stated that they have been working with their Alberta counterparts to share information.

      Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the closure of the Canada-U.S. border to nonessential travel has been extended for another month.

      The border was originally closed in March, before being extended in April until May 21.

      Dix, who said they have been working very closely with Alberta, said he thinks the closure will need to continue after this month and will probably be significantly longer.

      “In our country and our province, we know exactly what they’re doing,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say that is not the case in the United States.…the situation is much less clear there. I’m not convinced that there’s much chance that it will be clear sufficiently in the next month to change, at least in my mind, whether we should open the border.”

      He noted that health authorities in Washington state have done an “excellent job” in dealing with the circumstances there and that their approach is aligned with British Columbia’s.

      “We’re very hopeful for their success because as we’ve seen, the success of all jurisdictions rests in part on the success of all the others,” he said.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook