Abbotsford City Hall, along with Matsqui Centennial Auditorium, are closed to the public. Mayor Henry Braun says the city is working on a plan to re-open city hall. Patrick Penner/Abbotsford News

Abbotsford mayor optimistic about COVID recovery, despite conspiracy theorists

‘I don’t know what to say to people like that,’ Mayor says of those who think response is a power-grab

Despite a few people who still believe COVID-19 is a conspiratorial power grab by government, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun says he is confident that residents will continue winning the fight against the virus even as B.C. begins to lift some restrictions in the weeks to come.

Braun said he has been impressed with how residents have largely adhered to physical distancing requirements. And he predicted that the pandemic will leave a long shadow on how people interact one another in the years to come.

“We’re going to see some societal changes that are going to stay,” he said. “I personally am going to be very careful that I maintain, for the next couple of years, two metres physical distancing – unless it’s my wife.

“If nothing else, I think we’re going to have much more focus on hygiene. I don’t see myself shaking anybody’s hands in the near-term … and some of that may stay with us.”

Braun said he is baffled by those who continue to believe the virus’s danger is overblown, even as the COVID-19 death toll south of the border approaches 85,000. In Canada, more than 5,000 people have died.

“I don’t know what to do with people [that] think this is a government-led way of taking more control over society. And, I don’t know what to say to people like that.”

But he said he has “great confidence” that most understand the situation, even as British Columbia has escaped the worst of it.

Braun said he was glad to see the province start to formulate a plan to allow many businesses to re-open. Job numbers released last week showed a spike in unemployment, but Braun noted that they also revealed that many people have been able to keep working throughout the past two months.

“I’m glad that 89 per cent of employees in B.C. are still employed,” he said. “I’ve been talking to a number of employers – 200, 300 employees – and some of them have said ‘We haven’t missed a beat.’”

Braun said he asked what construction company operators need to continue their work.

“They said: ‘We need to get government out of the way. Just tell us what you want and we’ll figure out how to do it. If the two-metre distancing is still there, and it’s no more than 50 people on a site, we can comply with that. You let us worry how to do that.’”

Braun, who spoke to WorkSafeBC officials last week, said it will be important that the agency takes the lead in ensuring that businesses are abiding by safety plans that each must develop.

“The city is not going to become the enforcers here, we don’t have the staff to go into every business to see if they’re complying with their safety plan.”

Meanwhile, at city hall, staff have been looking at how it will re-open civic facilities and rec centres.

“You’re going to see plexiglass on our counters between the customer and our staff,” he said. “I’m guessing that’s going to stay long after COVID-19.”

Officials and residents must remain vigilant, both about preventing the spread of the virus within the community and in stopping it from coming into Abbotsford from other places, Braun said.

“What I’m concerned about is what’s going on south of the border and if they open up the border, you could have people coming in from the U.S. – not to pick on the U.S., they could come from anywhere.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix said this week that it wasn’t in the province’s interest to re-open the border.

Braun also urged residents to be understanding with one another as they adapt to life in an altered world.

“Guess what, we’re going to make mistakes, all of us. And that’s where we’re going to have to be a little more forgiving. Nobody has a playbook, and don’t jump all over somebody because they made a mistake. We all make mistakes, including me. When I make them, I’ll be quick to say I made a mistake.”

“We will get through this and there will be some good changes that come about, some long-lasting changes that will stand society in good stead.”

RELATED: Opening B.C.’s border to U.S. travel ‘is not in our best interest’: Dr. Henry

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