Increased demand for emergency pet boarding at Okanagan SPCA shelters

The B.C. SPCA is reporting an increase in the number of people looking for emergency boarding for their pets.

“When it comes to emergency boarding right now, across the province, actually, we are seeing an uptick in requests coming through,” said Sean Hogan, Kelowna branch manager.

According to the SPCA, the increase in animals needing emergency boarding is linked directly to an increase in the number of people escaping domestic abuse during the coronavirus pandemic, along with social isolation.

“Reasons people are giving is that they are leaving a domestic assault or leaving an abusive situation,” Hogan told Global News.

The animal organization said prior to the pandemic, the B.C. SPCA would take in, on average, two animals per week provincially under its emergency boarding program.

That number has now increased to eight or 10 every week.

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The provincial numbers don’t come as a surprise to Hogan, who said he’s witnessing it first hand.

Many SPCA shelters also report an increased demand for help with feeding pets during the pandemic as many families are financially strapped.

At the Kelowna branch, cat food and litter is particularly needed.

Anyone who is able to donate those items is asked to contact the branch.

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PNE/Playland predicts gross loss of $52 million due to COVID-19 shutdown

A visit to PNE/Playland is a summer staple for many in B.C., but due to the novel coronavirus this year, the fair gates will remain closed.

As a result, the event is projected to lose up to $52 million in gross revenue, according to spokesperson Laura Ballance, while net revenue losses could reach $10 million depending on when the PNE might resume operation.

In mid-April, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said physical-distancing measures put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 will remain throughout the summer, and that organizers of large outdoor events should think about alternatives.

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“We do not have enough herd immunity to protect everybody and allow that type of event to happen,” Henry said. “Large parades, large mass gatherings where we all come together — those will not be happening this summer.”

Last month, the federal government introduced a $73-billion wage subsidy program to cover 75 per cent of wages for employers that have seen sharp declines in revenue since the pandemic.

The program makes up half the roughly $145 billion in federal spending on COVID-19 countermeasures, and will cause a ripple of changes for the millions of workers who have either lost their jobs or had their hours slashed due to the crisis.

-With files from The Canadian Press

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Premier John Horgan to take your COVID-19 questions at Global BC town hall

The province’s announcement this week to slowly reopen businesses, schools and medical services starting mid-May has left many in B.C. wanting more information.

To help get your questions answered, Global BC is hosting its fourth virtual town hall, but this time with B.C Premier John Horgan.

News Hour anchors Chris Gailus and Sophie Lui will host the live event, to be broadcast from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12. You can also watch it on our website and on Global BC’s Facebook page.

We especially want your videos! Take a brief video of yourself asking your question, and it could be broadcast during the town hall. Simply send the video file with your name and community to [email protected] by Monday, May 11.

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Okanagan connection leads to large N95 mask donation from school in China

Donations are pouring in, including from overseas, after the organization representing primary care providers in the South Okanagan issued a public appeal for personal protective equipment (PPE).

The medical supplies offer critical protection for frontline healthcare workers responding to the deadly novel coronavirus outbreak, and PPE is in short supply due to global demand.

Graham Setters is a Penticton native who now runs an international school in China.

He worked with students and staff at the Sino-Canada high school, a private boarding school near Shanghai, to collect and donate 200 N95 medical masks to South Okanagan doctors.

His father, Bob Setters, had the medical masks shipped to his home in Okanagan Falls and arranged for pick-up.

“They came up with the idea, this student group which is called Syno business, and it’s run by the school, and they decided ‘Hey, we will put a package of masks together and send them to Canada’ as a friendly gesture,” he told Global New on Wednesday.

Dr. Tim Phillips, physician lead for the PPE working group at the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice, said the organization has been overwhelmed by the community support.

“It has been great,” he said.

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“We’ve had a number of boxes of gloves, a number of the businesses that would usually use procedural masks, whether they are nail salons or dentists offices, had reached out and certainly when their work environment changed and they weren’t needing it and saw the need within the community, stepped forward and donated those.”

As for the donation of N95 masks, Phillips says they will be distributed to doctors and nurse practitioners working at the outdoor assessment centre and COVID-19 test site set up at McLaren Arena in Penticton.

“I think it’s incredible. I think it shows the way that the world has kind of rallied around a response to COVID-19 and the need and ability for us to be able to work together,” he said.

Phillips added that sought-after supplies of PPE are being distributed to highest-risk environments first, such as hospital emergency departments and intensive care units.

Those in community medicine have had to get creative to protect themselves and their patients from the infectious disease.

“One of the things that’s allowed us to try and help with that and minimize that risk is the fact that very early on, we all went largely virtual,” Phillips said.

“So we started to do things as much as we could through either video links or through telephone.”

“As well, there has been efforts to streamline how things get done and who sees people. The assessment clinic is a part of that, trying to find a way to set up so that the fewest number of providers, whether they are nurses, nurse practitioners or physicians, are using gear in any given day.”

Phillips said primary care providers continue to require PPE and donations can be arranged by emailing [email protected]

“The pandemic isn’t anywhere close to being over,” he said, “right until we get to a point where we have a vaccine, and we know that people are protected, there is going to be a potential risk.”

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Coronavirus: No date yet from B.C. education minister on schools reopening

B.C.’s education minister confirmed Tuesday the province is working towards bringing more kids back to B.C. classrooms under the COVID-19 pandemic, but that it’s too early to provide a timeline.

“Right now, we are working with other ministries and our education partners to develop plans for a number of possible scenarios, including resuming some in-class instruction in a controlled and measured way for the future,” Rob Fleming told a news conference.

“Ministry staff are tracking other jurisdictions to understand the protocols for a controlled return for in class instruction.“

The province has been grappling with how a possible return to school will look.

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On Monday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she “expects” more kids to return before the end of the school year.

“This will allow us to create an evidence-based plan to help control the spread of COVID-19 when the conditions are appropriate,” Fleming said.

“We will return to normal school life in British Columbia down the road. And that road will be shorter and sooner if we continue to act together and act now.”

He reiterated that school staff and faculty will not be forced to wear personal protective equipment in the classroom, and that measures, such as increased cleaning and greater access to hand washing and sanitizing, are coming.

As for parents who are struggling to both work from home and teacher their children, BC School Trustees Association president Stephanie Higginson said don’t be too hard on yourself.

”What you’re doing is good enough,” she said. “Thank you for your peer patience and adaptability at this time.”

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Fruit pickers coming to B.C. need subsidized housing to curb COVID-19 outbreak: advocate

A coronavirus outbreak among fruit pickers in B.C.’s Okanagan is all but inevitable unless stringent protocols are brought in, domestic workers in the region say.

In the coming weeks, up to 1,500 domestic farm workers, many of whom hail from Quebec, will flood into the south Okanagan in search of short-term work during the harvest season.

David Olivier-Demers, a French Canadian with 18 years’ experience working in the region, said the risk of an outbreak is high, especially given some working conditions.

“A lot of farms are really small in scale, and there’s barely accommodation like toilets. On some farms, you’d be happy to have a flushing toilet or you’d be happy to have a place just to take a shower,” Demers said.

Domestic farm workers should be treated the same as temporary foreign workers, Demers said, and have to undergo 14 days of self-isolation at a hotel or motel, paid for by government.

Quebec has the highest number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, at more than 24,000 as of Monday morning, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Meanwhile, B.C. reports fewer than 2,000 confirmed cases.

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“When the French Canadians are coming to B.C., nobody is giving them two weeks with a place to stay,” he said.

Alix Longland, a former farm worker who now advocates for migrant workers, has written to local and provincial politicians pleading for adequate preventative measures to protect the South Okanagan from an outbreak.

“There needs to be more than just Loose Bay campground being open as a solution,” Longland told Global News. “There needs to be support for farmers to be able to give proper, adequate, safe living spaces to farm workers.”

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued a 10-page public health order on April 23 for employers and workers in the agricultural, aquacultural, forestry and resource sectors, focusing on sanitation and physical-distancing. She did not make it mandatory for all workers to self-isolate when coming to B.C.

The order dictates that employers must develop a COVID-19 infection prevention and control protocol, maintain high levels of hygiene, and provide for a rapid response if a worker develops symptoms, including procedures to isolate the worker and provide access to a health professional.

Workers are ordered to follow their employers’ protocols, including diligent hand hygiene, staying two metres away from others, staying in their accommodation on days they’re not at work, and avoid unnecessary visits to public establishments.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated on Monday that inter-provincial travel restrictions are not in place.

Boundary-Similkameen MLA Linda Larson said while she understands the community’s concerns, fruit pickers are essential Canadian workers.

“They are needed here in the South Okanagan to pick our cherry crop, to do the farm work that we don’t have other people to do.”

Larson said she couldn’t comment on if fruit pickers from high-risk COVID-19 areas should be required to self-isolate upon entry to B.C., saying decisions are made by health officials.

The Ministry of Agriculture has not returned a request for comment.

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COVID-19 outbreak at B.C. poultry plant shows it’s ‘irresponsible’ to work sick: B.C. premier

An outbreak at an East Vancouver chicken processing plant is a sign of how quickly things can go wrong if COVID-19 health restrictions aren’t taken seriously, said Premier John Horgan Wednesday.

Twenty-eight workers at the United Poultry facility on East Cordova Street have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since the first case was detected Sunday.

“Workers were coming to work because they were fearful they would lose wages and not be able to meet their expenses,” said Horgan.

“We cannot have people putting others at risk for fear of economic consequences to themselves. That’s irresponsible, but we have a collective responsibility to deal with that.”

It was a message pounded home by both Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in their Wednesday briefing.

Henry said the initial inspection of the plant found that several of the employees were working despite having respiratory symptoms.

She said until there is a vaccine for the virus, anyone who feels mildly ill, even if they believe it is just allergies, needs to stay home.

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“We also expect that employers need to pay attention to this and need to be responsible. You must have measures in place to ensure that everyone who is working is healthy and can keep a safe distance from each other in the workplace,” she said.

A Cargill plant in High River, Alta., that produces nearly 40 per cent of the country’s beef was shut down this week after being linked to more than 450 COVID-19 cases and one death.

Prof. Sylvain Charlebois with Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab said the meat industry poses specific challenges during the pandemic.

“Employees tend to work close to each other inside the plant,” he said.

“Now that’s being addressed across the country, but still the environment inside a plant is usually very cool and humid and viruses tend to like that kind of environment.”

Vancouver Coastal Health Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Patricia Daly said those hurdles can be overcome.

But she said in the case of the United plant, safety measures obviously broke down.

“At this plant, staff were provided with gloves and with plastic shields to protect them, so those types of measures can of course mitigate in situations where there can’t be two metres’ distancing,” she said.

“But clearly something went wrong here that allowed for transmission of COVID-19 so that’s why we’ll need to follow up with the inspectors responsible for this plant.”

— With files from Grace Ke

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Three new deaths, but B.C. reports fewest new COVID-19 cases in a month

Three more people have died of COVID-19 in B.C., and at least 14 new cases of the disease have been confirmed according to B.C. health officials.

It is the lowest number of new cases B.C. health officials have reported since March 15.

The newly-confirmed cases do not include inmates at the federally-operated Mission Institution, multiple people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since Wednesday.

There are also two new outbreaks in long-term care facilities, including the first outbreak in the Interior.

The province said four additional long-term care facilities where outbreaks had previously been declared over, had new cases on Thursday.

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According to the Ministry of Health there are now 1,575 lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the province, and 983 of those have fully recovered.

However, data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control showed that the Vancouver Coastal Health region had reported no new cases on Thursday, suggesting a possible delay.

There were 120 people in hospital from the disease Thursday, down 11 from Wednesday. Fifty-six of them are in intensive care, down three from the day prior.

Seventy-eight people have died of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.

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Coronavirus: Commercial power use down 30% in some sectors, says BC Hydro

In another sign of just how hard the novel coronavirus pandemic has hit B.C.’s economy, BC Hydro says daily commercial power usage has fallen 30 per cent in some sectors.

Recreational facilities saw the steepest decline, 30 per cent, while power use fell 29 per cent in the restaurant sector and 27 per cent in hotels according to BC Hydro.

Offices have seen a 16 per cent drop in power use.

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Uighur exile in Canada fears for family, friends in China amid COVID-19

For many Canadians, the most difficult part of self-isolation during the COVID-19 crisis is being away from loved ones.

For the majority of the population, that will end once the pandemic subsides.

But for members of the Uighur diaspora living in Canada, not having any contact with their family and friends back home in China, and worrying about family members who have disappeared, is an everyday reality with no end in sight.

LISTEN: Uighur exile in Canada shares COVID-19 fears

“It’s really hard when you are out of your home town and you are alone, plus you can’t have any contact… it’s really hard,” said Grace, a Uighur who has been living in exile in Canada for nearly four years.

Global News has agreed to conceal her name to protect her identity. She fears retaliation for speaking out about China’s widely documented persecution of Uighurs, an ethnic Muslim minority group in the semi-autonomous northwestern province of Xinjiang.

“Physically and emotionally, I am down. I don’t know how I am going to pass these days,” she said, describing how several months have passed since she last spoke with her husband. Global News has also agreed to protect his name out of concern for his safety.

She remembers telling him to stock up on groceries, as the novel coronavirus emerged in China’s Hubei province and began to spread across the country.

She regrets not having had the chance to say, “I love you.”

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“He disappeared,” she said. “I tried to FaceTime him but he didn’t reply. I called his mobile but his mobile was turned off. I just felt there was something wrong with him.”

Grace believes her husband has been imprisoned in one of the Chinese government’s mass detention camps.

Beijing refers to these facilities as reeducation centres, describing the operation as a highly successful de-radicalization program for Muslims.

‘Massive human rights abuse’

Dr. Charles Burton, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and former Canadian diplomat who served in China, says what’s happening to the Uighurs and other Muslims minorities in China, is a cultural genocide.

It’s considered the most damning evidence of what former detainees have been claiming for years.

An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) recently exposed what’s known as the Telegram — a ‘how-to manual’ on how to detain and brainwash Uighurs.

It reveals a brutal reality: dormitories with double locks, constant surveillance, indoctrination and a mandate to prevent escapes.

The documents state students can earn credit for so-called ideological transformation, while detailing how inmates can be detained indefinitely.

In November 2019, the Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom was questioned about the leaked documents during a press conference:

His reply: “Don’t listen to fake news. Don’t listen to fabrications.”

The Chinese government strongly denied the very existence of the camps until satellite imagery surfaced in 2017 and the country came under intense international pressure.

Canada has condemned the mass detention camps and surveillance of Uighurs in China and abroad.

Canada called on China to release all Uighurs “arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang” at the United Nations Human Rights Council twice in 2018 and also in March 2019.

Beijing has countered all of this by launching a propaganda campaign portraying the camps as humane job training centres.

“After they have been considered to be sufficiently reeducated or brainwashed as we would put it, they are often sent to work in the interior of China in restricted facilities where they still don’t have freedom to practice their religion,” said Burton.

According to a March 2020 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, China has been accused of forcing Uighur Muslims to work at factories that produce goods for big names such as Apple, Nike, Sony, and Samsung among other global companies.

Fears of COVID-19 and the health of detainees

The situation is alarming enough, but a growing source of anxiety for Grace is the possibility COIVD-19 has spread to the mass detention camps.

“That’s the main thing I am very worried about,” said Grace.

Burton said crowded conditions inside the mass camps make it ideal for the spread of viral transmissions like COVID-19. That’s on top of psychological stress, interrogation and poor nutrition, he said.

According to Chinese media, a spokesperson for Xinjiang region’s government — Elijan Anayit — strongly condemned reports from Uighurs in exile of the possible spread of the novel coronavirus at mass detention camps.

Anayit, according to local media in China, called the reports “fabricated slanders” and “attacks” in March 2020.

Burton said a lack of international outcry and support further alienates people like Grace and her husband.

Grace said the whole world is keeping silent, “even they see human rights, humanity being destroyed but they are not speaking out.”

In the meantime, half a world away from Xinjiang, Grace transforms her pain into hope, holding onto a tiny bit of optimism that she’ll finally hear from her husband again, and that he and other detained Uighurs will one day be released.

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