VANCOUVER — British Columbia has recorded an eighth death from COVID-19 as the number of infections climbs to 271 cases.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said Thursday the latest person to die was a resident of the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, where six others have died.
The province also announced 40 new cases of the novel coronavirus, with 17 people in hospital, nine of them in intensive care.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said most of the cases are in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health regions.
She said precautions everyone must take to protect each other are "not optional."
"This is for everybody and we do have the legal authority to enforce it," she said, adding enforcement officers could enter businesses where a public health order limiting gatherings to 50 people is being ignored.
"If you're somebody whose working in the community and you think it's OK to have a group of people in your business it can affect you and your family and your business as well if it were introduced in your community," Henry said.
Anyone who can't follow the orders should shut down their business, she said.
However, Henry said maintaining social distance in general must come with keeping a social connection, which could happen online, to prevent social isolation as anxiety over the spread of the virus increases so it's important for people to safely reach out to each other, including seniors.
She encouraged people to go on "virtual coffee dates" and to get take-out meals as a way to maintain connections and get outside as well as take advantage of online education, exercise and tours of museums that have placed their collections online.
While at least one community in B.C. has closed access to playgrounds, she said common sense must prevail as parents keep their kids from playing in groups and don't have play dates in order to prevent the virus from being brought home and passed on.
Dix said the province has also eliminated the three-month waiting period for medical services for British Columbians returning to Canada to ensure people get the care they need.
More than a million people around the province have used an online self-assessment tool to get information on symptoms and nearly 2,000 people called a COVID-19 phone line on Wednesday, while many more phoned an 811 health line, he said.
British Columbia has declared both a provincial state of emergency and a public health emergency because of COVID-19.
Vancouver city council followed the province with its own local state of emergency on Thursday.
The city says the declaration allows staff to take additional measures in the battle against the virus including giving the city priority in acquiring clothing, equipment or medical supplies to cope with the pandemic.
Mayor Kennedy Stewart said the bylaw gives the city the power to take things "a step further" if businesses continue to ignore orders to close as well.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2020
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the eighth person to die was a man.