Governments on Haida Gwaii have declared a state of emergency to reduce the potential impact of COVID-19.
On Monday, the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN), Skidegate Band Council, Old Massett Village Council, Village of Queen Charlotte, Village of Port Clements, Village of Masset and the North Coast Regional District (NCRD) officially declared a state of emergency within their jurisdictions.
In accordance with B.C.’s Emergency Program Act, the state of emergency will remain in effect for seven days — until March 30 at midnight — unless it is cancelled sooner by government. After seven days there will be a mandatory review process to determine whether it must continue.
A joint release shared by the island communities and NCRD said the state of emergency means “travel to and from communities within the NCRD will be controlled and limited to essential services only.”
All residents who are not working in essential services are asked to stay home and those working in essential services are asked to practise social distancing by maintaining a distance of 2 metres from those around them.
Residents who are returning from travel “are strongly recommended to self-isolate for 14 days upon returning.”
More information on essential services — which encompass health care operations, retail and more — can be found online.
The state of emergency also activates each community’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) — with the CHN operating the Unified Central Command — and gives “key personnel greater flexibility to access resources and respond efficiently to emergent circumstances.”
“Declaring a local state of emergency allows us to take additional measures to ensure we have the resources needed to maintain essential services and meet the demands of other agencies, including the health authorities and emergency responders,” NCRD Chair Barry Pages said in his declaration.
A similar order posted on the Village of Port Clements website, signed by Mayor Doug Daugert, said the state of emergency means the village and its employees are empowered to “do all acts and implement all procedures that are considered necessary to prevent or to alleviate the effects of the emergency.”
In practice, Daugert told the Observer the Port Clements EOC is “more a virtual centre” and the state of emergency mainly means three things: a coordinated response; grounds for the temporary cessation of non-essential services; and the ability to make decisions that would normally require a council motion on the fly.
“We don’t really gain a lot in terms of ability to enforce these things,” he said. “But it does give the ability to organize better.
“Mostly it is to try to get a coordinated response across the islands … and with Prince Rupert.”
Daugert added that it “gets people’s attention so they’re more likely to cooperate with the recommendations.”
In the CHN declaration, Haida Nation President Gaagwiis Jason Alsop said the state of emergency is “critical to the public health of all island citizens.”
“It is based on advice from local health professionals and will limit the risks that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to our island communities,” Alsop said. “There are no confirmed cases on Haida Gwaii at this time and we are doing all that we can to ensure the ongoing safety of our communities.”
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