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Latest COVID-19 travel advice another blow to BC tourism – Aldergrove Star

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Public health advice to again stop non-essential travel to and around B.C. is the latest blow to a tourism industry struggling to keep going with domestic business and strict precautions to protect customers and staff from COVID-19.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry renewed that advice this week as B.C. recorded its fourth straight day with more than 600 new cases of coronavirus diagnosed across the province. The latest wave of cases means B.C. residents have to go back to their initial precautions from the early days of the pandemic this spring, Henry says. The Tourism Industry Association of B.C., representing the hardest-hit sector of the economy, was quick to respond.

“While we recognize the province’s request to curtail non-essential travel, we’re concerned that tourism operators will again bear the brunt of the impact,” TIABC board chair Vivek Sharma said in a bulletin to members. “It’s important to note that travel is not the culprit for increasing transmission rates, but rather people’s behaviour. That’s where we need to step up our efforts.”

Henry’s latest restrictions are focused on the sharply increased infection rates in the Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver, with non-essential travel to and from the province’s most densely populated region targeted first. With cases still running at record highs after the first week of restrictions on private gatherings, indoor fitness classes and other activities deemed high risk, Henry called for the effort to be expanded.

“We have asked for only essential travel to be considered to and from the areas where we are seeing most transmission in the communities, but I call upon people across the province,” Henry said in a pandemic briefing from the B.C. legislature Nov. 16. “Now is not the time to travel for recreation or non-essential purposes, whether it’s from the Lower Mainland to the Island, whether it’s between the Interior and the North, whether it’s to and from other provinces in Canada.”

RELATED: Dr. Henry clarifies health orders for schools, socializing

RELATED: Dr. Henry says B.C. ‘mask mandate’ already in place

The B.C. government’s priority is on keeping schools and businesses operating as normally as possible, and protecting the health care system. As of Monday there were 11 new outbreaks declared in health care facilities, for a total of 52 active, with 45 of those in long-term care facilities centred mainly in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions.

Public health “guidance” documents posted last week repeatedly note that there is no public health order barring travel within the province, just as there is no province-wide order to wear masks in public.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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Black (market) Friday – Toronto Star

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Retailers in Manitoba are finding new loopholes within mandated public-health orders to peddle non-essential products, just in time for the busy holiday sales this weekend.

But speaking to reporters Friday, chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the province doesn’t want to penalize large businesses for exploiting apertures in prescribed restrictions just yet — even if they are directly contravening them by pushing merchandise out the door through new ways such as drive-thru services.

It’s a repeat of what happened only a week ago, epidemiologists and commerce stakeholders told the Free Press, when code-red restrictions were heightened to prohibit the in-person sale of non-essential items to begin with.

This time, however, they said the provincial government has had enough time to act and make appropriate changes before mass turnouts at retailers.

“We’re acting on good faith,” said Roussin, as bargain-loving Winnipeggers didn’t let pandemic restrictions keep them from their Black Friday shopping missions. “We’re not going to be issuing fines on this right now.”

News of in-person bargains travelled quickly Thursday and overnight, with hordes of shoppers lining up Friday morning, as early as 5 a.m. Parking lots were also quick to fill up with cars chock full of customers hoping to purchase discounted non-essential items, including electronics, toys, jewelry, makeup and clothing.

At Walmart, a new drive-thru service has been introduced, with individual locations either designating specific lanes for cars or asking people to park anywhere before a salesperson approaches them. Without requiring any advance notice or appointments, customers were able to place orders with a sales associate and pick between several items before paying for them with credit and debit cards or cash.

“It’s like I’m legit shopping for my stuff the way I would inside the store just by being outside,” said Gina Torros, a Winnipegger who waited in advance to get into the drive-thru outside the Empress Street Walmart to buy a new TV.

“It’s really cool, kinda like the pandemic doesn’t really affect this type of full shopping experience.”

Asked whether Walmart’s new services are allowed under current public-health rules for the province, Roussin said it is “completely against the spirit of the orders.”

He said only remote purchasing of non-essential items (through curbside pickup or delivery) is permitted. “Just because we are not fining them doesn’t change our overall message,” added Roussin.

Walmart declined to comment further on how it will adapt its new drive-thru services to be applicable under provincial restrictions. A spokesperson said the retailer, however, plans on continuing drive-thrus in Manitoba until at least Dec. 13, with discounted flyer items open to customers every Friday, Saturday and Sunday leading up to it.

Meanwhile, customers at the Real Canadian Superstore and Costco have been sent online flyers with discounts for in-person sales — resulting in plenty of traffic lined up at several of their parking lots in the city on Friday.

Martin Groleau, vice-president of marketing at Costco Canada, told the Free Press those lineups are “not necessarily our fault.”

“Yes, we’re offering discounts for Black Friday, but they’re not being offered in Manitoba stores,” said Groleau, who is also the director of membership at the company. “We are certainly not selling non-essential items either, please know that.”

The provincial government said a Costco on McGillivray Boulevard was handed a $5,000 fine for selling non-essential items to customers, in a news release on Friday. Groleau said he did not want to comment on that, and that he “still stands beside” his statement.

At Manitoba Liquor Mart locations, “hot buy” discount programs also caused some lineups. But a spokesperson said that wasn’t necessarily because of Black Friday specials.

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“We are not running any Black Friday specials — any and all discounts in our stores are the same as you would find any day or week of the year,” said Andrea Kowal, director of public affairs at Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, in a statement.

“The only advertising campaign we are doing right now… is actually to discourage busy stores — it encourages customers to not shop at peak times and think about using home delivery.”

Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist and health policy expert based in Winnipeg, said “all of this put together could easily cause COVID-19 transmissions.

“While I can’t speak to exactly the socio-economic or health reasons which Dr. Roussin is thinking of,” she said in an interview, “I can certainly say there’s already enough ways for people to access purchasing items if they need to — and maybe, a stern order would help preventing businesses from finding such loopholes.”

“It certainly is much safer just to stop this from happening altogether.”

Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said public health should “move beyond messaging” for business owners and allow for restrictions, instead of “continuously telling them what to do without rules to govern it.”

“If you want to prevent it, you should,” he said. “But I don’t think you can blame businesses for finding creative ways to survive during this time until you’re going to. It’s the only time of the year they can be making up their pandemic losses.”

Roussin said Friday the onus is on customers flocking to stores, however.

“There are two sides to this — it’s a supply and a demand,” he said. “But, no matter what these stores have set up, there shouldn’t be a demand. Manitobans should be staying home.

“They should be responsible for going shopping for non-essentials when that is not our messaging.”

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Manitoba offers temporary $5/hour pay bump to staff helping vulnerable people – CBC.ca

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Caregivers who provide direct or residential care to vulnerable Manitobans during the pandemic are being thanked with a pay bump.

The province will provide $5 per hour wage increase to eligible staff, including health-care aides, housekeeping staff, direct service workers and recreation workers, for a period of two months, Families Minister Heather Stefanson announced at a briefing Friday.

“This is really targeted at those lower-income folks that are working … frankly, as heroes within our system right now,” Stefanson said.

The $35-million caregiver wage support program will also support workplaces that are low on staff due to positive cases of COVID-19, she said.

Individuals at personal care homes or in disability services, child welfare services, homeless and family violence prevention shelters or long-term care facilities are eligible for the top-up. To qualify, workers must earn less than $25 an hour.

It’s expected as many as 20,000 workers can benefit.

Saluting front-line workers

“It recognizes the dedication and heroism of our front-line workers who are serving vulnerable Manitobans each and every day,” Stefanson said.

The program is partly funded by a $17-million commitment from the federal government. Ottawa’s contribution was part of money originally set aside for wage subsidies, an official said.

The top-up is based on the number of hours an employee works from Nov. 1 to Jan. 10. Regular and overtime hours are accepted. There is no limit to the amount of hours an eligible employee could apply for the wage bump.

Manitoba Families Minister Heather Stefanson announces a two-month wage subsidy for front-line care providers. It’s expected that 20,000 Manitobans will be eligible. (John Einarson/CBC)

Applications will be accepted twice. The first intake period will close on Dec. 14 and the money will be paid directly to workers that week, the province said. Applications will also be received in the second week of January. 

A full-time worker could receive an extra $1,800, the province said.

Shannon McAteer, health care co-ordinator for the Canadian Union of Public Employees Manitoba, said the extra $5 an hour will supplement the incomes of people who need it.

“This also highlights the fact that this this category, this sector … is definitely underpaid,” McAteer said, and that was the case even before the pandemic. The pay scale in some positions doesn’t go much higher than minimum wage, she said.

Some workers in this sector only have a few days of sick pay, said McAteer. She’d like to see additional funding for support workers who get sick with COVID-19 or must isolate.

Meanwhile, Stefanson described the wage subsidy announcement Friday as a first step toward helping employees already working in the sector. 

She didn’t say, however, how facilities are coping with limited staffing. Stefanson said 16 Community Living disABILITY Services agencies have reported positive COVID-19 cases among participants or staff.

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B.C. sees new daily high of 911 COVID-19 cases, reports 11 deaths – News 1130

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VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — As the province’s second wave pushes new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations to new records on a nearly daily basis, health officials are urging British Columbians to keep each other safe.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 911 new infections Friday, pushing B.C. over the 30,000 mark of confirmed cases since the pandemic began.

It is also another day deaths were in the double digits, with 11 more people losing their lives to COVID-19.

Henry said she’s concerned about recent reports of aggression over mask wearing, where employees have been assaulted or confronted over the order.

“Please remember that this requirement to wear a mask in indoor public locations is a provincial order that everyone must follow,” she said, while comparing masks to seatbelts and helmets. “It’s a layer of protection for everybody and a courtesy to those around you. And if you are opposed to wearing a mask, then I asked you to shop online, order takeout, or stay home and not put other people at risk.”

RELATED: Burnaby couple confronted by maskless neighbour over COVID-19 rule

She again offered a reminder that we don’t always know each other’s story, and we need to show each other respect.

“We have people who are suffering in our hospitals, right now, and their families are suffering too. And that these small simple actions, make a big difference for all of us,” Henry added.

There are a record 301 patients currently hospitalized, with 69 of them in intensive care.

While Health Minister Adrian Dix assures there is enough capacity in acute care, there is still the challenge of having ample staffing and resources.

“We do for the moment, but it is important, I think, for everyone to understand how critical is for those waiting for other procedures and for everyone that we do everything we can to stop the spread over the last number of days as well.”

Given there are more than 10,000 people under public health monitoring because they’re been in close contact with an infected person, nearly 8,000 active cases, and rising daily infections, Henry reminded British Columbians that there can be a delay in receiving a negative test result.

“Public health teams may conduct, or may ask and offer widespread testing of people whether symptomatic or asymptomatic in settings like workplaces like schools and long-term care homes even if there’s not widespread community transmission in that area. The priority is to contact those who are positive first to make sure that people are isolating so there may be a delay in people getting results,” she explained.

Meanwhile, three more outbreaks in health-care facilities were reported at the German-Canadian Benevolent Society, Villa Cathay Care Home, and Morgan Place Care Home. The Peace Portal Senior Village outbreak has ended.

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