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B.C.'s top doctor: 'I want to get out of the (public health) order business'

Vancouver -

When B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said during the first COVID-19 briefing of 2022: “It’s not about public health orders and us telling you what to do,” my ears perked up.

Later she said, in response to a reporter’s question about placing the onus on businesses to prepare for up to one-third of their workforces simultaneously falling ill: “I’ve said many, many times I want to get out of the order business.”

The decision of B.C.’s top doctor to implement no new health orders on Tuesday and even distance herself from them with her word choices felt, in my gut, odd.

It came on a day when the province revealed COVID-19 hospitalizations had climbed 35 per cent in B.C. since New Year’s Eve, and other provinces, like Ontario, were implementing further measures, including a temporary ban on indoor dining.

Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a prominent retired emergency room physician who has been calling for a three-week circuit breaker to slow transmission of the Omicron variant, responded with a different word: flabbergasted.

“What is the job of public health?” Filiatrault asked. “Because my take all along was to preserve the safety and health of the population of British Columbia.”

Filiatrault then added: “I was flabbergasted. What is your job then? And are we going to let industry decide what they can and cannot do during a pandemic?”

During the news conference, I asked Dr. Henry, by phone, to elaborate on what she meant. Below are my question and her full response, lightly edited for clarity.

David Molko, CTV News: "One of the things you said just in the briefing now, you said: 'It's not about public health orders and us telling you what to do.' With respect, you're the provincial health officer. When you said, 'I want to get out of the order business,' my jaw hit the ground. I'll make the leap and say I'm not the only one.

"So we're seeing more orders in places like Ontario - indoor dining closed, Quebec - a curfew, Manitoba – further school start delays.

"Respectfully, help me pick my jaw up. Why isn’t that, in your view, the path for us in British Columbia?"

Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer: "Yes, from the very beginning, public health orders are there as a last resort, when we want to make sure that people are absolutely doing things. And we want to do them in what we call the least restrictive means. That has always been our philosophy here and how we move forward.

"It's trying to find that balance of doing just enough so we can prevent the surge in morbidity and mortality and it goes back again – and I’ve said this many, many times – to what are our goals of our pandemic response?

"Primary is to prevent serious illness, to prevent sickness and death. To prevent overwhelming of our health-care system, that's a really, really important one. And thirdly, and really importantly it's to minimize societal disruption. We know that there are really important downside effects on growth and development and mental health if we don't have schools open in person, for example. And that those can affect children for decades to come.

"So, we have always tried to find that balance and orders are in place to try and make sure that those things that need to be shut are shut for the least period of time possible.

"You know, I talked a little bit about people trying to skirt or bend the rules when we do have as many orders as we need to have in place. This is not about skirting the rules. It's about trying to reduce the risk from those highest risk situations and putting in place the least restrictive means we can to get us through this without overwhelming our health-care system and minimizing the impact we have on society.

"So, that has been our approach here in B.C. from the very beginning and we've done this together.

"We don't have to force people to close to be able to get people to do the right thing and to take those measures that get us through there as well." Top Stories

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