VANCOUVER -- The B.C. government has announced it will be providing a safe drug supply to some users in an attempt to minimize harm during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

It's a measure that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who has become a household name for her handling of the COVID-19 crisis, has long supported, but one that required federal exemptions before it could be implemented locally.

With those exemptions now in place, B.C. unveiled new guidelines Thursday that will give health care providers some ability to address the ongoing problem of toxic street drugs, which are continuing to claim lives amid the ongoing battle against COVID-19.

Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said the dual public health emergencies prompted by opioids and the virus present challenges "unlike anything we've ever seen," particularly for vulnerable populations.

"Physical distancing is not easy when you are living in poverty, visiting a clinic every day to get your medicine and relying on an unpredictable, illegal drug supply," Darcy said in a news release. "This guidance will make it easier for at-risk people to meet the requirements of distancing while avoiding other serious risks to their health and to the health of the community."

The new measures are intended for people with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, plus anyone at risk of being infected with the virus, and those who have a history of substance abuse. That includes people with addictions to alcohol.

Drug users who already have a regular doctor or nurse can reach out to them for help accessing safe prescription alternatives, the government said, while those who don't can contact a rapid access addiction clinic.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart applauded the move on Thursday, thanking the federal government for loosening restrictions and potentially helping decrease the number of people relying on toxic street drugs. He said protecting vulnerable residents is the city's "top priority" during the crisis.