An empty parking lot in Harrison Hot Springs in what would have otherwise been a busy day. The local state of emergency – now suspended – closed off a number of roads and facilities to visitors in an effort to stop the pandemic spread. (Contributed Photo/Anne White)

UPDATE: Harrison to continue visitor deterring measures, beef up COVID-19 rule enforcement

B.C. Minister of Public Safety seeking to unify COVID-19 response

All states of local emergency (SOLEs) relating to the COVID-19 pandemic – including Harrison Hot Springs – have been suspended by provincial order.

In a statement released on Thursday afternoon, Mayor Leo Facio stated that nothing will change in what the village of Harrison Hot Springs is doing to deter visitors or discourage non-essential travel at this time.

“Our barricades and signage will remain in place,” Facio said. “Our washroom facilities, exercise equipment and playgrounds will remain closed and we will also remove the portable washrooms that were on site last weekend.”

He added the portable washrooms could not be properly maintained given the COVID-outbreak and will be removed by the contractor and reminds residents to use the washroom prior to any brief outing for exercise.

Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General in B.C., has suspended all COVID-19 SOLEs except for the city of Vancouver. This extraordinary power falls under the Emergency Program Act, in which the minister issued a number of orders to ensure a united, co-ordinated response in combating COVID-19 across all levels of government so long as the provincial state of emergency continues.

By working through the province rather than a SOLE, it would give local authorities the ability to hold more flexible meetings to expedite emergency-related decisions and to coordinate the use of local public facilities for self-isolation, testing, medical care, warehousing and distribution of necessary supplies.

RELATED: COVID-19 dominates Harrison council agenda

“Many local governments, First Nations and partners have stepped up to make sure they have prepared to protect their communities from the impacts of COVID-19,” Farnworth said in a statement on Thursday morning, March 26. “Today’s measures will make sure communities are taking necessary steps, in co-ordination with the Province, to get ready should more action be required to combat COVID-19.”

Facio said although the suspension of the SOLE limits the village’s ability to seek funding from the province, he and other B.C. mayors have been ensured local RCMP and bylaw enforcement will be strengthened to enforce orders from provincial health authorities, including prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people and the need for two metres of social distancing.

“We intend to put these measures in place in time for the Easter long weekend,” Facio stated.

“In these new and challenging times we are facing, we’re asking British Columbians to stay strong as a community, and together we can get through this,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “I’m proud of the strategic measures we have enacted government-wide to help our families and health-care workers, to keep them safe and supported. By issuing a series of ministerial orders, we recognize that this is not forever, but it is for now. With everyone stepping in and respecting the extraordinary means we have to take, we will overcome this.”

RELATED: ‘This is a community coming together’ Harrison Mayor delivers updates, praise for COVID-19 efforts

Facio declared a SOLE only four days earlier. Measures against COVID-19 in said SOLE involved the complete closure of Esplanade Avenue as well as recreational facilities and public washrooms in an effort to bar visitors until the pandemic has subsided.

“For any seniors out there who may need additional support during this time of social isolation, please call the Seniors Helpline by dialing 2-1-1,” Facio stated. “Be patient. Circuts are busy these days and it might take some time to get through.”

Facio again praised the efforts of local emergency workers, essential businesses and residents for doing their part in combating the pandemic.

“Thank you for conitnuing to follow the orders of the Provincial Health Officer and please stay safe, look after each other, call, email or text your friends and neighbours,” Facio concluded. “Be kind to one another. God bless you all.”

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