Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s COVID-19 Update (March 18, 2020)

The following is the full text of Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s March 18, 2020 update to the city on COVID-19.

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Good afternoon and thank you for everyone for being here.

First, I acknowledge we gather upon the unceded traditional territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations. Thank you.

Today, we are announcing new measures the City is taking to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

I want to start by thanking every Vancouver bar and restaurant owners who listened to the directives from B.C.’s Public Health Officer Bonnie Henry and Vancouver Coastal Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Patricia Daly and closed their doors to the public last night.

Thank you to the tens of thousands of Vancouver residents who also took this seriously and stayed home for St. Patrick’s Day.

This is a critical time in the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve, and each of us has a personal responsibility to keep our City safe.

Myself, our Council and our staff all take this responsibility very seriously.

Right now, I need everyone to follow the advice of our public health officials and maintain between 1 and 2 metres of physical distance between yourself and others in public.

This means that for most people, you should limit most public interactions, in most places.

If you cannot guarantee a safe physical distance between you and other people, you should not be at that business.

For business owners, either you need to change operations to ensure physical distancing or close to the public.

These are extraordinary times, and we need to take fast and extraordinary action.

While many people and businesses followed the public health order last night, some did not.

This morning I received a briefing from Police Chief Adam Palmer who told me many smaller restaurants stayed open with patrons inside.

Also this morning, I was briefed by the measures we need to take as a City by our senior staff.

After taking the best advice from Health Officials and Fire Chief Darrell Reid, I have decided we need to declare a state of emergency in Vancouver.

As such, I have called a virtual special council meeting tomorrow morning where I will ask them to formally endorse my decision.

This declaration will give our City the tools it needs to move faster and to keep residents and businesses safe.

Part of these powers will enable us to close all public-serving businesses to assembly service, and remain open only to provide take out or delivery.

It will also allow us to monitor the situation in grocery stores and pharmacies and make sure no one is buying more supplies than they need, and allow us to take action to ration if necessary.

We have seen empty shelves and panicked shopping in the last few days.

This is unacceptable. I have checked with store managers and people familiar with our supply chain.

There is no food or supply shortage. But there is a serious problem with people hoarding and overbuying.

If residents do not immediately change their behaviour and begin acting with their fellow Vancouverites in mind, I will work with local retailers and take action.

Finally, this declaration will give our emergency management teams and police officers more flexibility to deploy resources, and enforce public health orders and restrictions on businesses.

To that end, I am asking all residents to immediately limit their time in public places.

Stay home as much as you can, and on the rare occasion you need to leave home to get essentials, keep a safe distance of between 1 and 2 meters from others.

To business owners in Vancouver: I know this is incredibly difficult, but unless you can operate take out or delivery services, now is the time to close to the public.

We need to also think ahead to next week, next month, and the many months that will follow.

We have significant challenges that are facing our most vulnerable, that are facing workers, and that are facing businesses owners and I want to talk quickly about what we’re asking both the Province and Federal Government for in order to support these groups.

Let me start with the most vulnerable residents in SROs in the Downtown Eastside and throughout downtown, as well as those living in shelters, under-housed, or homeless in our City.

First: we need to keep COVID-19 out of these communities for as long as we can. Most of these residents have little access to safe hygiene, and most are also immune compromised.

An outbreak among these neighbours could be devastating.

That is why I have convened meetings with non-profit services providers who serve vulnerable populations to ask them what they need help with.

We already have a strong sense of what the main items are.

From the Province, we need a plan for testing of front line workers, funds to keep SROs clean and systems for making sure people living in SROs or on the streets know the risks and what to do to stay as safe as possible.

Second: we need a plan for what happens when the first cases appear.

We need all necessary funding and supports from senior government to help isolate infected people and keep them safe.

And third: When we do end up moving people, we need to make sure they can stay isolated while still accessing food, health services, treatments, and medications.

I need firm commitments that whatever we need to keep vulnerable people safe, we’ll get.

The second set of challenges are those that are facing workers.

Right now, many workers — especially those who work in the service sector or who are dealing with restrictions because of COVID-19 — are already or soon to be out of work.

This morning the Prime Minister announced an unprecedented aid package that helps people who have been laid off, are unable to work because of illness or caregiving, or who have had their hours reduced.

I want to encourage every single worker in our City who worries about their income or has already been impacted to visit and take steps now to apply for benefits.

For all other workers who may not qualify for EI, members of the so-called ‘gig economy’ or those who are self-employed or who are caring for children, the government has announced that an E-I-like system is coming in April.

If you are unsure whether you will be able to qualify for EI, or need additional help, I encourage people to find out if they qualify for BC’s Income Assistance Program by visiting or calling 1–866–866–0800.

We also need to make sure that while people are struggling with pay, they don’t lose the places they call home.

That’s why I am calling on the Province to immediately move to ban evictions and help people pay their rents, if needed.

We have a small local rent bank here at the City of Vancouver which is now overwhelmed with requests. We need provincial help.

And finally, if you’re a worker who happens to own your home, I want to make sure the Province expands the residential tax deferment program to cover more households beyond seniors and families with children.

Let me reiterate this: No one should lose their home or become homeless as a result of this pandemic.

The third set of challenges we need help with are mitigating the impacts on our local economy, especially our small businesses.

The Federal Government has already announced some measures to support, like a line of credit. But we need to do more.

That’s why I am calling on the Provincial government to expand the Property Tax Deferral Program to provide immediate relief for small businesses and non-profits.

This is a quick first step we can take now as we continue to explore all options to support our local economy in the months ahead.

The last thing I want to stress is that all of these requests are quite immediate, as part of the first phase of asks from the City.

They deal with the impacts being felt right now and they will help keep people safe.

But make no mistake, there will be much, much more to do as we transition from fighting the pandemic towards recovery and getting our economy moving again.

Those requests for aid to Ottawa and Victoria are coming, but they are for another day.

Right now, the focus must remain on helping our most vulnerable stay safe, making sure no worker is left behind and no one loses their home, and doing right by the thousands of businesses that are reeling right now.

And now, before I hand it over to staff for more details on our operational shifts, I want to speak directly to each and every resident and business owner in our City:

Thank you. Thank you for being strong, thank you for being brave, and thank you for being part of the solution.

I know these are scary times. I know you might be unsure about your job, your paycheque, your rent, the future of your businesses, or the care of your children.

I want you to know we are here for you. Everyone here is doing their utmost to fight for you and fight for our City.

Thank you.

The 40th Mayor of Vancouver.

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