Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives an update on B.C.’s response to COVID-19 in Vancouver, B.C., on March 6, 2020. (Karissa Gall/Black Press Media)

Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives an update on B.C.’s response to COVID-19 in Vancouver, B.C., on March 6, 2020. (Karissa Gall/Black Press Media)

VIDEO: B.C. premier, health officials unveil response plan for COVID-19

Plan is to be ready to operate under an outbreak that lasts up to four months

The B.C. government is activating its pandemic plan to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak that has sickened 21 people in the province.

Speaking at a media conference on March 6 in Vancouver, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the government’s priority is still to contain and slow the outbreak through testing, border surveillance and isolation, “but be prepared.”

As of the night before the conference, Dix said the province had tested 2,803 samples involving 2,008 individuals. By the end of next week it will have four additional labs for testing and over the next month it will acquire additional machines.

To meet staffing demands in the event of a larger outbreak, he said “B.C. is currently in the process of establishing a list of health care workers who can be rapidly redeployed” either locally or provincially, and is working with professional colleges to register health care workers who can be redeployed from other parts of the country.

ALSO READ: Eight new B.C. coronavirus cases, one with no travel link

Protocols to de-escalate or “decant” hospitals are also being put in place to ensure health care capacity, he said. For example, by sending low-risk patients home sooner and deferring scheduled surgeries deemed non-urgent.

He said the province has already implemented hospital-wide protocols to safely triage and separate anyone presenting with respiratory illness.

As for medical supplies, he said “B.C. will be receiving a large shipment of additional supplies in the coming days” and will coordinate distribution provincially.

Overall, he said the province is ready to use emergency powers to protect the population, health workers and the health system’s capacity to help patients with other problems.

Premier John Horgan said a deputy ministers committee will oversee the response and report to a cabinet committee co-chaired by him and Dix.

Horgan also said the provincial pandemic plan is to be ready to operate under an outbreak that lasts up to four months.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry added that of the 21 people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus, four have recovered and only one is in hospital in the intensive care unit.

She said the condition of the woman in her 80s has improved.

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