The Kootenay region’s parliamentarian is speaking out against “lockdowns” and in support of a Cranbrook gym owner who was fined for remaining open in the face of provincial health orders.
Rob Morrison, the Member of Parliament for Kootenay-Columbia, spoke out against fears of “normalizing lockdowns” while lending support to Trevor Zak and Fitness Inc.
Zak decided to keep Fitness Inc. open past the Dec. 23 deadline, which landed him with a fine the next day. He has since closed the gym until Jan. 18, as per the PHO.
While public health orders and restrictions are issued by provinces, Morrison — as the federal representative — said the federal government needs to invest in expanding ICU capacity at hospitals across the country.
“The number of ICU beds we have in this country are so limited and our present government has had two years to improve our ICU’s since we’ve been involved in COVID, and in fact, another four years prior to that,” Morrison said.
It’s difficult to pin down the exact number of ICU beds available across Canada at any given time, however, the federal government reported that the number of ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients increased from 483 to 640 between Dec. 27-Jan 3, 2022.
While the federal government provides funding to the provinces for health care, the provinces and health authorities, along with regional hospital boards in British Columbia’s case, set capital and infrastructure priorities and share the cost.
For example, the ICU at East Kootenay Regional Hospital was expanded to six beds in 2016 as part of a $20 million project funded between the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District Board (KERHD), the B.C. Ministry of Health and community fundraising from groups such as local health care auxiliaries.
Setting capital funding priorities between the Ministry of Health and regional hospital boards can be a delicate balancing act, as local priorities may not align with those inside the Ministry of Health.
Cranbrook city councillor Wes Graham, who also sits on the KERHD board and works in Morrison’s constituency office, noted that the B.C. Ministry of Health has recently brought forward funding proposals for capital projects that do not line up with local priorities.
“My questions are, with our capital projects, where are we building capacity?” asked Graham. “We are not building capacity in our hospitals. We’re worried about a wood boiler in Golden, we’re worried about other green initiatives — which are fine — but we’re in the middle of a pandemic and we’re locking the gym down because of potential hospital capacity…there has not been one project in our region to deal with capacity.
“So are we fine, or aren’t we fine? That’s the million dollar question.”
In a follow-up statement, Morrison also called on the federal government to support provinces in increasing rapid testing capacity, procuring and distributing N95 masks to Canadians, to support provinces in making booster shots widely available, and providing emergency credentialing foreign-trained health care care professionals.
Fitness Inc. fined for contravening public health order
Gyms and fitness centres were ordered to close on Dec. 23 by Dr. Bonnie Henry, who cited ongoing concerns about the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant at the time.
At first, Fitness Inc. initially tried to remain open, as owner Trevor Zak said he was concerned for the mental and physical well-being of his gym’s membership. However, he closed the doors on Dec. 24 after receiving a fine from RCMP for contravening the public health order.
“It’s like we’re criminals,” Zak said, on Tuesday. “We’re just trying to get people healthy and do the right thing, keep people safe.”
Zak argued that fitness facilities should be classified as an essential service and noted that there hasn’t been any public data or evidence produced by the province that shows COVID-19 transmission in gyms. He also questioned why aquatic centres or hockey arenas can be packed, but gyms are singled out.
Zak said he, and other fitness facility owners, had no notice that the province was closing closing gyms until it was announced on the news and social media.
“We never even get emails from the government saying officially, you’re closed,” Zak said. “We have to hear it from the press or on Facebook. We get zero consultation from the government.”
Dr. Bonnie Henry has said the public health order will be reviewed by Jan. 18.
The inclusion of gym closures as part of the province’s public health orders has been a flashpoint in recent weeks.
Iron Energy Gym in West Kelowna was also recently fined for contravening public health orders and the City of West Kelowna also did not renew its business license. Two other fitness facilities in Kamloops were also recently fined.
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