Green Party MLA Adam Olsen says Gulf Islands residents want visitors stopped but goods and services to continue. (Hansard TV)

MLA Adam Olsen fears COVID-19 will overwhelm medical facilities on Gulf Islands

Residents call for a ban on external contact other than shipments of essentials

MLA Adam Olsen says residents living on the Gulf Islands in his riding of Saanich North and the Islands fear that COVID-19 could quickly overwhelm the local health infrastructure.

“The concern primarily lies with the fact that their health care infrastructure over there could be overwhelmed very quickly,” he said. “It’s thin at best.”

Olsen said residents have become increasingly concerned about the situation and he has heard growing, “desperate” calls to completely close off the islands to everything except for shipments necessary to sustain life.

“The call has been to start to do what Ucluelet’s and Tofino’s mayors have done,” he said. “They have said, ‘please stay away from our communities. No more external contacts other than shipments coming in.’”

The riding includes Salt Spring Island, Galiano Island, Mayne Island, Saturna Island, as well as North Pender and South Pender Island.

RELATED: No plans to shut off isolated B.C. communities from COVID-19, Adrian Dix says

Available medical care on those islands vary, said Olsen. “They are all different, all the way from a full hospital on Salt Spring Island down to a very small clinic that operates whenever nurses and doctors can get there on Saturna,” he said. “They all have some level of health infrastructure, but it is fragile and easily overwhelmed.”

Olsen said those islands along with the Saanich Peninsula were already suffering from a shortage of family doctors and COVID-19 is exposing past failures. “We are really, really testing the strength of our health care system, and exposing its weaknesses, unlike anybody had ever expected,” he said. “My hope is that we, as we get through this, can look at this in a very honest way. What worked? What didn’t and how do we improve to ensure the resilience and sustainability of our communities.”

Practically, the ferry routes connecting Greater Vancouver and Greater Victoria with the islands provide what Olsen calls a “choke-point” that would allow for such a measure. “It’s a point where you can maintain some control,” he said. “On the other hand, I have had emails from constituents, saying ‘don’t shut that ferry down. It’s our only way off the islands.’ So it’s a messy situation as it is everywhere, trying to determine how to do it.”

As for now, the provincial government has no plans to isolate communities looking to keep visitors and their potential viruses out.

Olsen had raised the issue earlier this week.

“Has the ministry considered barring or restricting access to isolate, rural and at-risk communities in a way that will allow them to continue to receive goods to sustain themselves but also that may stop the spread into those communities?” Olsen asked Health Minister Adrian Dix.

Dix didn’t answer directly, referring to local and regional plans for emergency preparedness in communities.

“No matter where you live, whether it’s in Alert Bay or in Abbotsford, whether it’s in Vanderhoof or Vancouver, you can catch COVID-19, wherever you are, no matter what your age,” Dix said. “If you’re a teenager or you’re 60, you can pass on COVID-19.”

Looking at the big picture, Olsen sees British Columbia and the rest of Canada right on the “precipice of a complete lockdown.” Government officials would prefer if British Columbians and Canadians were to follow the announced restrictions, said Olsen. “But my sense of it is that they are very close to a full enforcement.”

If so, Olsen said such an enforcement would pose multiple challenges. “How do you enforce that? What level of enforcement? It has been a staged process. Probably what they are hoping for is for public and social compliance rather than the necessity to enforce because that adds a whole lot of other challenges to the government.”

Overall, Olsen urges constituents to heed the advice of public health officials everywhere. “Stay home, stay away from people as much as possible, and if you are sick, remove yourself even further. This is an extreme public health situation.”


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