OHS Canada Magazine

Large protest gatherings pose COVID-19 risks, say B.C. health officials

‘We cannot forget we are still in the middle of a pandemic’


By Dirk Meissner

VICTORIA — Large public gatherings, including anti-racism protests, pose health risks during a pandemic, British Columbia’s top health officials said Monday.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said people in B.C. have the right to protest and express their feelings, but warned there could be COVID-19 health consequences associated with a weekend protest in downtown Vancouver.

“Peaceful demonstration is our right, one that is important to all of us, but we cannot forget we are still in the middle of a pandemic,” she said at a news conference.

Henry said she saw many people wearing masks and practising safe distancing but she urged those who attended to monitor their health over the coming days.

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“We also know right now large gatherings remain very high risk, even outdoors,” she said. “Those who were there (Sunday), you may have put yourself at risk.”

An estimated 3,500 people gathered in Vancouver following protests across the United States over the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

B.C. protests ignore gathering limits

B.C. has a public health order limiting the size of gatherings to 50 people.

“Weigh your options, think about the impacts, particularly if you are a health-care worker or have vulnerable people in your circle, in your household, in your family,” Henry said.

The province reported 24 new COVID-19 cases since Saturday and one death of an elderly resident at a Metro Vancouver long-term care home.

B.C. now has 2,597 cases of COVID-19 and there have been 165 deaths. The province says 2,207 people have recovered from the illness.

Health Minister Adrian Dix echoed Henry’s views against large gatherings, suggesting people explore innovative ways of expression and protest that protect everybody’s health during the pandemic.

“We have to collectively use our imaginations,” said Dix, adding rallies could be split into numerous smaller groups rather than one large gathering.