British Columbia is recruiting 1,400 furloughed workers in the province's hard-hit hospitality and tourism sectors to help launch mass immunization clinics in April.
B.C. Premier John Horgan announced Wednesday that the province will hire workers from 14 organizations to perform non-clinical work in the province's immunization centres.
The companies, which have suffered significant losses and laid off workers during the pandemic, include Air Canada, WestJet, Vancouver International Airport, the Vancouver Canucks and Tourism Whistler.
Workers to focus on logistical support
Dr. Penny Ballem, who is leading the province's immunization program, said the workers will focus on logistical support, including managing the thousands of people who are expected to stream through the clinics.
The province says it will also rely on the workers' language skills.
"We are extremely grateful to have them stepping forward and bringing their incredible skills around welcoming people," Ballem said.
The companies have already started to call and train hundreds of staff to work in the immunization clinics, according to Ballem, who said she's heard from seniors who have received their vaccine and been "delighted" with their experience.
"They've been received with such compassion and such care," she said.
Other groups in the program include the B.C. Pavilion Corporation, Ceres Terminals Canada, the Canadian Red Cross, the Fraser Valley Bandits, Pacific Destinations Services, the Pacific National Exhibition and the Vancouver Giants.
Horgan said the workers will be paid by the companies, with the province topping up some salaries.
'Unacceptable rise' in cases
Horgan also urged British Columbians to continue following public health orders from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, citing the "unacceptable rise" in cases in the province.
"We have to continue following the directions of Dr. Henry," he said. "The public health orders are not there to be punitive. They are there to keep us safe."
Horgan said Henry will share more details Thursday on how the province intends to manage visits in long-term care facilities, where the majority of staff and residents have now been vaccinated.
The premier also said he received assurances from Ottawa on Wednesday that the province will continue to receive vaccine shipments.
It follows reports that the European Union is considering export restrictions for the next six weeks and India is temporarily holding back shipments of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine
"We're assured by the prime minister's office that it's full steam ahead," Horgan said.
"We're going to continue to take our direction from those who are procuring the vaccines for all Canadians and that's the federal government."
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Horgan said Ballem and Henry are in regular contact with their provincial counterparts to ensure there's suitable vaccine supply in the province.
Ballem noted the province has set up more than 150 clinics and feels "confident" with the rollout.
Vaccine timeline accelerates
Health officials announced Tuesday that another 200,000 people who have serious medical conditions would be able to book a shot sooner than expected, starting on Monday.
Health Minister Adrian Dix says "tremendous progress'' has been made in the age-based vaccine program, allowing the government to move those who are at increased health risk up the queue.
People with various forms of cancer, transplant recipients, those with severe respiratory problems, kidney disease and other conditions will get a letter in the mail to take to their appointment.
The age-based schedule is also being accelerated, with those age 76 and older able to book appointments starting at noon Wednesday.
Horgan said B.C. was considering giving workers in the province paid time off to go and get their vaccine, just as they get paid time off to go vote in an election.
Saskatchewan is currently the only province offering employees paid time away to get their shot.