Report includes praise and 26 recommendations over how the province can be better prepared for next emergency
The province has released an independent report that makes 26 recommendations, such as being better prepared, more transparent and fostering public trust, for how the government could improve its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Overall, despite being unprepared for a provincewide emergency, the Government of British Columbia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was strong, showing resilience, balance, and nimbleness that should give British Columbians confidence in its ability to respond to future provincewide emergencies,” reads the executive summary of the 144-page report, simply called COVID-19 Lessons Learned Review.
It was prepared by three authors — Bob de Faye, Dan Perrin, and Chris Trumpy, all former civil servants —who generally praised the province for its handling of the health emergency that began in March of 2020.
Still, the report says the health emergency provided the province with an “opportunity” to be better prepared to respond to similar emergencies in future by acting ahead of time, making changes to its emergency management plan and how to better serve and co-ordinate with First Nations.
The province commissioned the report as an operational overview of its response to the pandemic, which to date has claimed the lives of 4,642 people in B.C.
In March, when the undertaking was announced the Opposition Liberals were critical saying the report would be limited because it would exclude any examination of public health decisions and economic recovery actions.
B.C. fared better than other provinces
The report’s authors conducted public engagement and consultation with First Nations and government stakeholders. It spoke directly with 200 people and received 15,000 responses and 3,000 pages of written comment.
It also compared B.C.’s response to that of Canada’s four other most populous provinces.
The report says that, overall, B.C.’s public health measures were less restrictive than other provinces and had the highest increase in program spending.
The report found that B.C. also had a “slightly” higher vaccination rate than other jurisdictions and lower rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths.
Economically, the report said B.C. fared at least as well as the other jurisdictions in Canada, with employment recovering to pre-pandemic levels by July 2021.
Room for improvement
The report makes 26 findings and conclusions in six categories which are trust, preparation, decision-making, communication, implementation and how pandemic response affected Indigenous people.
Mike Farnworth, the minister of public safety and solicitor general said the findings are being seen by his government as de facto recommendations, and action will be taken.
“All things considered, B.C. did a pretty remarkable job, Are there lessons to be learned?” he said during a news conference Friday afternoon. “Absolutely, because you always want to do better.”
The report said B.C.’s initial response to the pandemic was undertaken through its Emergency Management B.C. (EMBC) plan, but its format, which involves a small group of decision-makers, created gaps in the co-ordination of an all-government response.
Concerns were also raised about how transparent the province was over whether public-health care decisions were supported by or followed scientific evidence.
The report recommends that there be increased transparency over the process.
“That could include establishing one or more formal advisory groups to support the public health officer and public health decisions,” it reads.
The report also makes suggestions for how B.C. used data during the pandemic, something that the province has been routinely scrutinized for.
The report said that public health decision-makers struggled to access data because technology systems at hospitals and within health authorities are not integrated and working together.
“The requirement to manually compile hospitalization data highlighted longstanding issues that have for decades proven resistant to resolution,” reads the report.
The report found that trust in government was relatively high throughout the pandemic, up to August 2022 but then began a downward trend. It recommends that “ways be found to rebuild trust, which will be necessary to support compliance with future restrictive measures should they be needed.”
In a statement, Farnworth welcomed the feedback from the authors of the report and said work was already underway to address the shortcomings it highlights.
“The review’s findings will aid the Province as it continues the work to modernize its emergency management legislation, which will be introduced in spring 2023,” it said.
The Ministry of Health and EMBC have also begun work to identify how the provincial pandemic co-ordination plan could be updated.
The statement said that EMBC is also participating in Exercise Coastal Response in February 2023, where logistics-related emergency response activities can be tested as a part of broader supply chain management.