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PANDEMIC

Surrey mayor appeals to people’s ‘basic humanity’ to stop stockpiling, re-selling

‘We now recognize there are no safe places around the world,’ Dr. Bonnie Henry says

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum is slamming grocery hoarders and profiteers who are re-selling products like toilet paper to make a quick buck at their neighbours’ expense during the pandemic.

“In these anxious times we all need to look out for one another,” he said Monday. “That is why I am so disheartened when I hear of hoarding or panic-buying of basic items, and worst of all, reports of people who are re-selling these items to make a quick buck.”

He appealed to Surrey store owners and retailers to put limits on goods that are in high demand.

“To those who are stockpiling and re-selling, I appeal to your basic humanity to stop – to stop – this kind of behaviour because it’s not only irrational, but you are benefiting at the expense of someone in your community.”

On Sunday, the mayor ordered the closure of all city recreation centres – including swimming pools, ice arenas, museums, libraries and cultural centres – until further notice, as a “proactive measure that was done in the best interest of public health.”

“For the time being, spring break camps and daycare facilities run by the City of Surrey are continuing based on the most current guidelines provided by the provincial health officer and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control,” he said. “We know the situation is fluid, and we are monitoring it closely with Fraser Health. So if the continued program of day-cares and day-camps is deemed unsafe for our children or staff, they will be shut down immediately.”

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Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum. (File photo)

McCallum said Monday city hall will remain open, “with a lot of precautions,” as well as police and fire stations. But the City of Surrey is “not at this time” asking theatres, restaurants and shopping malls to reduce their hours but is “certainly encouraging” the private sector to consider it.

Despite some panic, and troubling behaviour in the form of hoarding and profiteering during this COVID-19 pandemic – as well as increasingly dire news from public health officials – many Surrey residents are helping out those who rely on the food bank.

“Everything so far is pretty good, our donations are pretty good,” Surrey Food Bank executive director Feezah Jaffer said Monday. “We had a lot of online donations this weekend, which is very, very heartening to see, very cool to see. People have been really supportive.”

“Our clients don’t have the opportunity or the access to stock up,” she noted. “So we do ask the community to be kind-of cognizant of that. Yes, keep yourselves and your family safe, and do what you can to keep your family safe, but also think about your neighbours and your community.”

In the spirit of social distancing, Jaffer said, the food bank, located at 10732 City Parkway in Whalley, is limiting the number of clients entering the building to five at a time. “Everybody’s wearing gloves; we’re sanitizing everything, our volunteers are keeping distance from each other, our staff is keeping distance from each other.”

Regular distribution is 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

“Our seniors distribution, after this week, we’re going to be folding them into our regular time, we’re not going to stay longer, and then our evening distribution, we’re going to be suspending that,” she said. “I want my staff to be safe as well so I’m going to let them go home early.”

Jaffer said the time dedicated to seniors, alternate Wednesdays from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., is being temporarily suspended. “Starting April 1, we’re going to fold them into our regular time, still on the Wednesday.”

At press time Monday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said “it’s been a challenging weekend, and a weekend with change.”

“The situation is escalating everywhere around us, and here in British Columbia as well,” she said. By press time Monday B.C. had 103 confirmed cases, and four deaths. The fatalities were at the Lynn Canyon Care Centre in North Vancouver.

“We now recognize there are no safe places around the world,” Henry said.

Scheduled surgeries are being cancelled “across the board” to “get us prepared,” she said. “We will be stopping and cancelling scheduled surgeries across the board and the hospitals will be taking additional actions to prioritize urgent patients to cancel elective patients and preserve urgent and emergent care in our facilities.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix said hospitals will now only be doing emergency and emergent procedures. Thousands of elective surgeries are being cancelled, he said, in British Columbia, to free up “hundreds and hundreds” of hospital beds.

At press time Monday schools were in the midst of a two-week spring break. “We’re in active discussions about how to best manage school operations to protect both students and staff and to make sure child services are available where they’re needed,” Henry said.

Dix said a formal announcement would be made Tuesday, after press time, concerning this. The provincial government has also prohibited gatherings of more than 50 people.

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Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, and Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, providing an update on novel coronavirus (COVID-19). (BC Government)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday people who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents will be denied entry into the county, with the exception of air crews, diplomats, immediate families of Canadian citizens “and, at this time, U.S. citizens.”

That last exception clearly did not sit well with Dix.

“We note that we remain concerned that access to visitors from the United States continues to be allowed,” Dix said Monday. “It’s our strong message that visitors from the United States not come to British Columbia. Don’t come, because at this moment that is the wrong thing to do. We understand that people are being asked to self-isolate, but better than self-isolate, for visitors, is not to come.”

Henry said it’s “incredibly important for our community right now that everybody who comes into B.C., has been outside the country, needs to stay at home, needs to stay away from work, needs to stay away from school, needs to stay out of our communities so we can break those transmission chains.”

Meantime, McCallum noted the city’s Pandemic Response Committee has been working for the past five weeks to prepare for the COVID-19 crisis and is working with senior health authorities to curb the spread of this virus. The committee is comprised of Surrey Fire Chief Larry Thomas, City Manager Vince LaLonde and other senior staff.

Everyone has a role to play in fighting this virus, McCallum said, by washing our hands regularly, staying home if we’re sick and “socially distancing” ourselves.

“As someone who has been in public life for as long as I have,” McCallum said, “I have never turned down a handshake, until now.”

“We also have to be mindful to look out for one another, especially our seniors and individuals with underlying health conditions.”

All kinds of public events have been delayed or cancelled on account of the pandemic. Organizers of the annual Vaisakhi parade in Newton, which draws about half a million people, cancelled that April 25 event “until further notice.”

But the annual Cloverdale Rodeo, which is held on the May long weekend, is still on.

At least, that’s the plan. This will be revisted after the Easter long weekend, Mike McSorley, general manager of the Cloverdale Rodeo and country fair, told the Now-Leader.

“As of today, we’re moving full-speed ahead with plans but we will re-evaluate after April 14,” he said Friday.

“We’re planning on going ahead, we’ve let all of our suppliers know that that’s the plan,” McSorley said. “We hope everybody is safe and ready to have a party in May.”

The last time the Cloverdale Rodeo was cancelled was on May 14, 1995 because of a Surrey civic workers strike, and it was rescheduled for Sept. 1 to 4. The delay was estimated to cost close to $150,000.

Asked if he has an idea how many cases of COVID-19 Surrey has, even roughly, McCallum deferred that question to the fire chief. “I’m not aware actually,” the mayor said.

Thomas replied that the B.C. Centre for Disease Control “quit disclosing” the locations “for patient privacy, so we don’t have that.”

Meantime, McCallum noted Surrey Memorial Hospital is the “head hospital for all of B.C. for diseases like this, or viruses like this. It was set up an number of years ago as the provincial headquarters to deal with viruses or an emergency like this.

“They have some of the best staff there, literally in Canada, and they’ve researched this,” McCallum said. “And so it’s a few blocks away from us here and we’re very, very confident that they have lots of capacity to handle any type of thing that we have to use the hospital for.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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