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COVID-19: B.C. declares provincial state of emergency

B.C. Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth speaking to the COVID-19 pandemic. (via Screengrab)

Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth has declared a provincial state of emergency in B.C. today (March 18) amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The announcement comes one day after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry declared a public health emergency.

"What today's declaration allows for is a province-wide approach to backup the provincial health emergency declaration that was made yesterday by Dr. Bonnie Henry," said Farnworth, who said he made the declaration based on the recommendation of B.C.'s health and emergency management officials.

The declaration also ensures federal, provincial and local resources are delivered in a coordinated, "all hands on deck" manner, said Farnworth, and gives the province the power to "secure critical supply chains to ensure people have access to essential goods and services, and the infrastructure necessary to response to COVID-19."

Once issued, the state of emergency is in effect for 14 days, but may be rescinded or extended as the province deems necessary.

Farnworth also said that B.C.'s supply chains are in "good shape," and stressed that there is no need for British Columbians to panic-buy items at stores.

There are 186 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in B.C. as of Tuesday, including seven deaths. 

After the health emergency was declared yesterday, stores, bars and restaurants across the province began to temporarily close down, or move to reduced business hours or delivery models, as provincial and federal health authories urge people to stay home and maintain social distancing in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The B.C. Legislature will also briefly resume Monday with reduced members, said Farnworth, in order to pass legislation to ensure the continuity of government and provide employment supports to people in the province.

The last time B.C. declared a provincial state of emergency was in August 2018 in response to a record-breaking wildfire season.

And in 2017, the province was in a state of emergency for 10 weeks, from July 7 to Sept. 15, again due to wildfires.