B.C. doctors urge province to close all non-essential businesses, enforce social distancing

Doctors at some of Metro Vancouver's busiest hospitals are pleading with B.C.'s provincial health officer to lockdown entire communities in order to contain COVID-19.

Dr. Gerald Da Roza, head of medicine at Royal Columbian Hospital, said as of Saturday morning nearly 200 doctors where he works as well as at Surrey Memorial, Burnaby Hospital and Chilliwack General, were behind the letter to Dr. Bonnie Henry.

"We are going to see the number of cases expand exponentially," Da Roza said.

The letter specifically calls for the closure of all businesses except for essential services, and for more enforcement of social distancing rules at crowded beaches and parks. 

The City of Toronto recently ordered the closure of non-essential businesses, the letter says, and in the U.S. states like California have issued "shelter in place" orders essentially keeping most people at home. 

Da Roza says some people are still taking social distancing too lightly, and many doctors find the rising number of cases to be alarming.

He said Royal Columbian Hospital has already taken in several patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and the hospital has had to clear two wards, including a critical care ward, to do so. 

At a media conference Saturday, Henry said she agreed with the letter's message, adding the province's actions are already in line with the doctors' requests.

"The term lockdown is a nice one to hear but I believe the measures that we're doing equate to what they're asking," she said.

Many businesses still need to operate to provide people with a reasonable number of services, Henry said.

However, she acknowledged that some people, especially those who are younger, are still continuing to congregate in groups in places like parks and at the beach. 

Henry said younger people may feel that they're immune to the virus because they're less likely to die from it, but she pointed out that they too can get infected and be hospitalized. 

Even if young people only experience mild symptoms, she said, they can pass it on to their families and their communities. 

It's important for people to get outside, Henry said, but they still need to abide by provincial social distancing measures of keeping at least two metres away from others and not congregating in groups. 

"This is what we're talking about in terms of making sure that we're not gathering on the beach to watch the sunset," she said.

The province is capable of enforcing the measures it has put in place, Henry said. 

Enforcement to flatten the curve

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix agreed that enforcement will be necessary. 

"We understand that this is the period to flatten the curve and it's everybody's responsibility to do that," Dix said, referring to keeping the number of infections from rising quickly. 

"It's a question of ensuring everyone, everyone understands that it is their responsibility to participate."

Dix reinforced Henry's message that B.C.'s measures are in line with those in places like California where 16 sectors are exempt and people are still allowed to go outside. 

Henry said the province is looking at additional measures to reach people of all ages so they're aware of the social distancing rules. 

Sending out an emergency alert via text message is one option the province has explored, she said, as well as targeted advertising on social media.