PPST Jan 28 NEWS: Doctors call for strengthening of Public Health Orders to stop spread of COVID in large industrial projects.

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Protect the Planet Stop TMX
Doctors call for strengthening of Public Health Orders to stop spread of COVID in large industrial projects.

Unceded Coast Salish Territories (VANCOUVER, BC) — As fears rise that British Columbia’s efforts to flatten the curve of COVID may be insufficient, doctors have called on Premier John Horgan’s government to strengthen a recent Public Health Order to stop infections among workers on major construction projects in the Interior.

Dr. Larry Barzelai, writing on behalf of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, has asked that the restart of major project be tied to COVID-19 infection data such as the ratio of positive tests to total tests made and not based upon more arbitrary measures or guesswork. The doctors are also asking for greater transparency about infections in camps so communities know where the virus is as soon as data is available.

“The lives of oil and gas workers, Indigenous elders and communities are being put at risk to protect an industry that does not have a bright future in the context of a climate emergency,” Barzelai says.

The doctors’ letter praises Dr. Bonnie Henry for her efforts, announced Dec.29 and follow-on Order of Jan. 12, to address the spread of COVID in industrial work camps and large construction projects after the holidays and the suspension projects owing to safety concerns. The related public health order, which applies to the Site C Dam, and four large fossil-energy infrastructure projects, including the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project (TMX). notes, “A rapid return to full operating capacity on the part of large-scale industrial operations, with the attendant rapid return of large numbers of workers to the worksites and industrial camps, will likely further fuel and accelerate the cycle of transmission of COVID-19 among the workers and the surrounding communities.”

Since then, the letter notes, infection rates continue to climb averaging about 500 new infections per day. A new, rapidly spreading variant with even higher mortality is part of the current dangerous period of the  COVID-19 pandemic. Currently the Public Health Order only applies to Northern Health Authority and has no metrics included to gauge when return-to-work is safe. Construction of TMX along the 750 km proposed route in BC is less than 10% complete, and it runs mostly through Interior and Fraser Health Authorities. CAPE is asking that towns and cities in these areas be properly protected. Protect the Planet Stop TMX agrees.

The letter states that First Nations and rural and remote communities across the province need the protection a strengthened Public Health Order governing the terms for restarting industrial camps, contact tracing, and vaccine delivery and administration.

The full text of the letter is available here.
For more information, see the full text of the CAPE letter, and below background information, or

Dr. Tim Takaro, Professor of Health Sciences, ttakaro@sfu.ca, 604-838-7458
Rod Marining, ****


The Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project is a risk to public health, public finances and our biosphere. The existing Trans Mountain pipeline is has a long history of disastrous spills. In June this year, 50,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a pump station located above an aquifer that supplies the Sumas First Nation, near what is colonially known as Chilliwack, with drinking water. The thirteen 67-year old tanks at the terminus of the pipeline are too close together to put out in the event of a fire, according to a detailed report by the Burnaby Fire Department. No fewer than 240,000 people live within the 4.2 km radius of the site that is considered an evacuation zone including 32,000 members of the SFU community.

A growing number of insurers have pulled out of the TMX pipeline expansion project. A recent warning from economists states that Trans Mountain project is no longer financially viable. In November, the Canada Energy Regulator released a report stating that there is no need for any pipeline expansion if Canada takes measures to curb GHGs, and according to a December report by the Parliamentary Budget Office TMX will only be marginally profitable if the Canadian government imposes no further climate measures. Indigenous groups, meanwhile, have echoed a finding of the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, that there is a direction connection between resource extraction man-camps and violence against Indigenous women.

The $20 billion pipeline project was purchased from Texas oil giant Kinder Morgan by the federal government in 2018. Costs on the pipeline have ballooned since the purchase. The project is opposed by the Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Coldwater Indian Band, who were recently denied leave to appeal by the Supreme Court of Canada. It also conflicts with Canada’s commitment under the Paris Climate Agreement to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degree Celsius. The project would impact numerous drinking water sources along the route, Burrard Inlet and Tsleil-Waututh, Qayqayt and other First Nations, Burnaby Mountain and Simon Fraser University. It would also spell a 7-fold increase in tanker traffic in the Burrard inlet and an increased threat to the endangered Southern Resident Orcas. The Province of British Columbia, the State of Washington, and 20 municipalities oppose the pipeline project.