Six Okanagan chambers of commerce have signed onto a call for the B.C. government to follow other provinces across Canada in lifting COVID-19 mandates.
In a letter addressed to Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry dated March 8, the chambers say more transparency is needed from health officials while B.C. remains the only province under COVID-19 mandates.
Chambers from Armstrong, Lake Country, Peachland, Penticton, Summerland and the Greater Westside Board of Trade signed the letter.
“As our neighbouring provinces are in the process of lifting mandates, along with other provinces across the country and other countries around the world, B.C.’s mandates seem to have no end in sight,” the letter states. “While we understand that each province has created and followed its own health guidelines, the lack of consistent scientific evidence amongst health authorities and scientists, both nationally and internationally, for the implementation of mandates and vaccine passports have instead resulted in detrimental harms to society.”
The chambers point out that about 90 per cent of British Columbians 18 and older are fully vaccinated, and those numbers haven’t changed for some time despite the vaccine mandates.
The economic fallout has been severe, the chambers say, pointing to $1.4 billion in losses to small B.C. businesses annually — an estimate based on monthly spending of $300 in restaurants, $200 on entertainment and $100 on recreation and fitness.
The letter also says the province’s tourism industry generated $22.3 billion in 2019 compared to just $7.1 billion in 2020, with numbers not yet available for 2021. The chambers say the effects of mandates on tourism industries have already been proven in the U.S., where states without mandates and restrictions saw a tourism boom while those with more restrictions continued to struggle.
The letter goes on to say that labour shortages — including a shortage of family doctors and other health care providers — will be worsened if mandates persist, as workers will be more likely to go to provinces where mandates have been lifted.
Finally, the chambers take issue with the division in society that’s been stoked by the vaccine mandates.
“The ‘vaxxed’ vs ‘unvaxxed’ dialogue has created a detrimental division in our communities that we may never fully recover from,” the letter states. “Families and friends have been divided, and the problem is only going to be accelerated by continued division and mandates that according to many doctors and scientists from around the world, should be stopped immediately.”
As time goes on, the burden on the government to provide scientific backing to COVID-19 mandates grows, and the chambers want more transparency on the decision-making process.
“Transparency has been requested from our government by our local chambers in the past months and those requests have been ignored, but there is no denying that the harms of these mandates cannot be ignored and will only worsen with time,” the letter reads. “There must be transparency on decision making, especially when it appears the science is differing from province to province.”
On Tuesday, the province announced it is extending the deadline for all B.C. health care workers to be vaccinated until March 31. B.C. has also extended its vaccine passport program through June 2022.