B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser speaks to Indigenous leaders from across the province at their annual “all chiefs” meeting in Vancouver, Nov. 6, 2019. (B.C. government)

COVID-19: B.C. adds 55 ambulances, air support for remote health care

Faster testing, transport promised for rural, Indigenous communities

The B.C. government is adding 55 ambulances and additional plane and helicopter flight capacity to help control the spread of COVID-19 in remote and Indigenous communities, Premier John Horgan says.

Horgan and Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser announced the effort April 20.

“We’re committed to moving patients at a moment’s notice, particularly in this time of COVID-19,” Horgan said.

B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser said the new framework for remote response is prioritizing rapid testing, self-isolation and medical transport for people who need hospital care not available where they live.

The additional ground ambulances and five helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft are being activated for B.C.’s coronavirus pandemic response plan, but they will be kept in place for long-term improvement in remote communities’ access to higher-level health care, said Susan Wannamaker, executive vice-president of the Provincial Health Services Authority.

The pandemic has accelerated the province’s efforts in recent years to reach out to remote communities with health care. The new framework includes housing options for people looking to self-isolate near their families, faster COVID-19 testing and “culturally safe contact tracing that respects privacy in small communities,” the health ministry said in a statement.

B.C. has had at least one COVID-19 case on a remote reserve, the Blueberry First Nations near Fort St. John. The mayor of Alert Bay, a village on Cormorant Island off northern Vancouver Island, has also tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Cormorant Island is also home to about 450 members of the ‘Namgis First Nation, about the same population as Alert Bay.

RELATED: Remote Vancouver Island village has first case, the mayor

RELATED: Blueberry River community tracks COVID-19 contacts

Some of B.C.’s remote communities have taken their own steps to limit visitors to essential trips, and to restrict travel. Among the latest is Port Renfrew and the neighbouring Pacheedaht Nation on the west side of Vancouver Island. It has a local population of about 340 people and has restricted access to Port Renfrew’s one gas station and one grocery store.

“Not only have we asked that non-residents don’t visit the region, but we also are asking our residents not to try to leave the community,” said Kyle Van Delft, emergency program coordinator for the Pacheedaht Nation. “Should the virus start transmission within the community, the effects would be devastating, especially for such a small population.”


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