Premier calls for ‘common sense’ after seeing video of large gatherings

“C’mon — you’re better than that.” That’s how B.C. Premier John Horgan opened his weekly press briefing on Thursday.

While he congratulated the majority of British Columbians on their adherence to public-health orders aimed at stemming the pandemic, he expressed disappointment in video images of large gatherings in Kelowna and Vancouver.

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“We need bigger spaces and fewer faces,” said Horgan. “We need to make sure that we’re respecting not just our own space, but other people’s space.”

On Tuesday night, video and photos showed an informal drum circle at Third Beach in Stanley Park in Vancouver attended by large groups of people, with little evidence they were maintaining a physical distance or wearing masks.

About 70 people have been infected by COVID-19 as a result of parties held in Kelowna around Canada Day.

“We’re only going to be able to defeat this if we do it together,” said Horgan. “The challenge ahead of us is enormous.”

The province has tools to enforce COVID-19 public-health orders and regulations, but Horgan said such crackdowns in other provinces haven’t necessarily worked, and his approach — and that of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry — is to appeal to people “to act better.”

“We have to appeal to people’s common sense and their general decency and their respect for their neighbours and their loved ones — that’s what we’re doing today, that’s what I’m trying to do today.”

Horgan also spoke to the federal government’s rapid response to his appeal to better protect the province’s borders by land, air and sea. Horgan has said in the past that the border with the United States, where transmission rates of COVID-19 remain high, should remain closed to all but essential travellers until “the U.S. gets a handle on this pandemic.”

While daily reports of COVID-19 cases in B.C. have averaged 30, in Washington state it has been 829, said Horgan.

A Canada-U.S. agreement to keep the border closed to non-essential travel in March has been extended to Aug. 20.

The Canada Border Services Agency, responsible for ports of entry in B.C., warned boaters in June that crossing the border for recreation or tourism is prohibited because of the pandemic.

Boaters who enter Canada without reporting to the agency, including for the purpose of refuelling, could face severe penalties, including fines starting at $1,000, seizure of their vessels or criminal charges, said the agency. Non-compliance with border-entry restrictions could also see boaters face up to six months in prison.

The premier said he has “zero problem” with boaters being in British Columbia waters, but they must be essential travellers if they are docking.

“If you’re going to dock in British Columbia, if you’re not an essential traveller, you’re not allowed to do that,” said Horgan. “The federal government has responded with hefty fines for Americans who do come into Canadian waters without identifying [themselves to] the appropriate authorities — and those fines are severe and I’m grateful that the federal government responded so quickly to my appeal.”

Horgan addressed child care in the province, saying the pandemic has shown it’s not a social program but an “economic imperative” to allow everyone to participate in the economy — women, men and families.

“I think it’s time for us to double down now to make sure we’re increasing more spaces, training more early-childhood educators, so we can have a robust accessible, quality, affordable child-care system here in British Columbia,” said Horgan.

About 1,000 people are in isolation in the province for 14 days because of their close contacts with someone who is infected, and some of them will develop COVID-19, said Henry.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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