Doctors from Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., have called on the provincial health officer to introduce stricter measures to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus in the province.
In the letter sent to Dr. Bonnie Henry on Friday, the physicians say the closure of non-essential businesses and the enforcement of social distancing measures is critically needed to avoid a “catastrophic number of preventable deaths” and strain on the health care system.
“At our current rate of spread, our hospitals will be overwhelmed within a few weeks without drastic action,” the hospital’s head of medicine, Dr. Gerald Da Roza, writes on behalf of the hospital’s physicians.
“Our team of physicians . . . is working tirelessly to overcome shortages in staffing and resources,” he continues. “However, we will lose this battle unless we act immediately to contain this virus in the community.”
Da Roza warns at B.C.’s current rate of cases and deaths reported, the province is on the same track as Italy, which has imposed a national lockdown after becoming the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe.
On Saturday alone, Italy’s death toll surged by 793 fatalities, while its total number of cases skyrocketed to 53,578, up from 47,021. The increase in deaths marked a second record 24-hour jump, after 627 people died Thursday.
Da Roza says such quick “doubling” of cases within a matter of days has led to Italian doctors having to make impossible choices on who to treat and who to turn away — and that B.C. could see similar circumstances if officials don’t act.
“A community lockdown may seem drastic, but experiences throughout the rest of the world clearly demonstrate how critical it is to act decisively and urgently,” he writes.
B.C. announced 76 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, along with the province’s 10th death from the disease. The province has now seen a total of 424 cases since the outbreak began, after reporting similarly large leaps in case counts over the past few days.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the high numbers of cases being reported this week is due to a testing backlog that is being cleared.
When asked about the doctors’ letter, she said current orders that she’s implemented — limiting public gatherings, restaurants and bars eliminating in-store dining, and self-isolation for workers where possible — should be enough for now, provided they’re being followed.
“The term ‘lockdown’ is a nice one to hear, but I believe the measures we are doing equate to what they are asking,” she said.
“There are still some problems, and there are still some concerns and we are being made aware of those, particularly groups of young people. Young people feel like they are immune to this . . . they are not immune.”
Henry on Saturday issued a new order for all personal service businesses to close, including massage parlours, salons and tattoo parlours.
Speaking with Global News after Henry’s announcement, Da Roza acknowledged the challenging decisions Henry has to make, but said “things need to be enforced even stronger.”
“It becomes very discouraging for my colleagues when we go outside or are on our way home and we see people playing soccer games, having big congregations on the dock, on the beaches, not being able to be two metres apart from each other,” he said.
“Our concern is that the public is not necessarily taking this seriously.”
Da Roza said he was pleased by the latest order for personal service businesses to close, but added his concerns are more around enforcement of those and other measures.
Police and health officials in other provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have made clear that people could face fines for violating their own social distancing measures. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has also suggested that people should call police if they know of returning travellers who are not self-isolating.
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu warned Saturday that if Canadians choose to ignore the pleas from health authorities, the government will take more draconian measures.
—With files from the Canadian Press
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