B.C. gives itself high marks for pandemic response

B.C. gives itself high marks

When Canadians found themselves trapped by lockdowns, state of emergency orders and closed borders in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, it’s fair to say there were worse places to be stuck than B.C.

Other provinces appeared slower to respond and, as a result, had higher infection rates, and ended up responding with much more draconian and longer lasting public health measures and restrictions.

A new report by the ministry of Public Safety finds B.C.’s response to the pandemic was, on the whole, effective, balanced and earned a fairly high degree of public trust.

“I think, for a jurisdiction our size, we had an absolutely enviable record compared to other locations,” Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said in a press conference today, following the release of the report.

“We didn’t have to shut down schools the way some of the other provinces did. We had the highest vaccination rates on a per capita rates in the country, the less impacted GDP. All things considered, B.C. did a pretty remarkable job. But are there lessons to be learned? Absolutely. Because you always want to do better.”

The review was ordered in March, to see what lessons might be learned from the way B.C. responded to the pandemic. A final report released today includes findings on how the government might do things differently or better, but it makes no hard recommendations.

The review included surveys, with 15,000 responses and 3,000 pages of written comments. The report found there was a fairly high degree of public trust, thanks in no small part to provincial health officer Bonnie Henry, who held daily press briefings in the first few months of the pandemic.

The report acknowledges the "public trust built by the calm and competent daily press conferences led by the provincial health officer."

“We were basing our decisions based on the best public health advice from our provincial health officers," Farnworth said. "By and large, I think our communication was effective.”

Public trust did eventually start to wane, however, as British Columbians grew weary of restrictions and changing and sometimes confusing rules.

For example, early on in the pandemic, Henry downplayed the efficacy of masks in reducing the spread of the virus, but then later made mask wearing mandatory.

Generally, though, there was good public buy-in and trust in public health officials, and that the restrictions were not as draconian as they were in some other jurisdictions.

“The data shows that B.C. public health measures were somewhat less restrictive overall and somewhat more stable, that B.C. had the highest increase in program spending, and had a slightly higher vaccination rate than the other jurisdictions,” the report concludes.

“In terms of health outcomes, B.C. had slightly lower rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths. From an economic perspective, employment in B.C. recovered to pre-pandemic levels by July 2021, about the same as most other provinces and had the least impact on gross domestic product (GDP) over the pandemic. Overall, this indicates that B.C. did at least as well as the other jurisdictions.”

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