The B.C. government has declared a provincial state of emergency.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced the step on Wednesday as part of the province’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I want to ensure our government is doing everything possible to address this crisis,” Farnworth said.
“These are extraordinary powers that have been brought to bear in extraordinary times.”
The declaration of a provincial state of emergency gives the government sweeping powers, such as acquiring or using any land or property considered necessary to address the pandemic.
The province also now has the power to control or prohibit travel to or from any area of British Columbia.
That capacity was used during the wildfire seasons in 2017 and 2018 to ensure British Columbians did not return to areas under mandatory evacuation order.
The state of emergency also allows the province to procure, fix prices for or ration food, clothing, fuel, equipment, medical supplies or other essential supplies and the use of any property, services, resources or equipment.
It also authorizes local authorities to implement a local emergency plan.
“Declaring a state of emergency is an important measure to support our provincial health officer and minister of health in swift and powerful response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Farnworth said.
“We are working with partners across government and industry to co-ordinate emergency response efforts, and we won’t hesitate to use the tools available to us to keep people safe.”
Farnworth declared a ban on the reselling of essential goods, and detailed the new ability to restrict people from hoarding food or alcohol if necessary.
“I understand people’s concerns about wanting to make sure they have enough supplies at home if they have to self-isolate,” he said. “The reality is this, our supply chains are in good shape. People need to use common sense.”
The B.C. Legislature is set to return on Monday, with 12 MLAs to debate and pass the emergency measures, which will include a law to prohibit employers from firing workers who remain home in self-isolation.
“These are temporary measures that will help us immensely in the long term,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix, who was also at the news conference.
“I encourage British Columbians to respect the situation as it stands and remember that each of us has an individual responsibility and civic duty to look out for each other by complying with all emergency orders.”
The emergency declaration also gives the province the power to require retired health workers to return to work, though Farnworth does not think that will be necessary.
“What we are seeing is people stepping up and coming forward. That is what we do in this province. I don’t believe I am going to have to use a power to force people to do what they instinctively know what is the right thing to do,” Farnworth said.
A day earlier, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry declared a public health emergency, which allows for additional powers in terms of supply chains and coordination of resources between all levels of government.
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