Abbotsford-specific pandemic plan was suggested in 2016, but never created

Community risk assessment listed a city pandemic plan as a potential action to reduce risk

The City of Abbotsford hasn’t created its own pandemic influenza plan after the idea was suggested in a 2016 report on risks posed to the municipality and its residents.

Instead, Fraser Health has taken the lead on preparations for a pandemic, city officials say. But Fraser Health spokespeople declined to address questions about the specifics of pandemic planning, instead directing queries to the BC Centre for Disease Control.

The coronavirus that has prompted the closing of several Chinese cities has not yet been detected in Canada, and the country’s health minister says the risk to Canadians is low. But the danger of a pandemic, whether it be from influenza or another type of disease, has long been on the radar of local officials.

Four years ago, the city commissioned a “community risk assessment” that laid out an array of hazards and vulnerabilities to the city. Those vulnerabilities ranged from large fires to chemical spills to floods and even a volcanic explosion.

RELATED: Flooding, earthquakes pose ‘high risk’ to Abbotsford

The report also considered the risks posed by a pandemic disease, and included a list of three “potential city actions to reduce risk.”

It was suggested the city promote annual flu vaccinations for staff and politicians, work with schools and Fraser Health “to develop collaborative pandemic influenza plans,” and create its own such plan.

While the report suggested an influenza plan be created, many of the responses to – and risks from – an influenza pandemic and a SARS-like coronavirus outbreak would be similar.

For example, the 2016 risk assessment noted that fire or police services could be affected if a large number of firefighters or police officers became ill.

A city spokesperson said Abbotsford would work with Fraser Health and provincial officials in the event of a pandemic emergency, but that no specific city plan had been developed. City staff are connected with Fraser Health resources to allow them to receive influenza vaccines.

“The Community Risk Assessment identified the development of a collaborative community pandemic influenza plan as a potential action for risk reduction for the whole city,” an emailed statement said. “The City of Abbotsford is continuing to work alongside Fraser Health, the school district and under public health bodies to address our community’s resiliency for future influenza and pandemic risks.”

The Fraser Valley’s two largest hospitals, meanwhile, are the most-crowded large hospitals in the province and operated at more than 115 per cent capacity last year. Winter is particularly crowded. From January to March of 2019, Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Chilliwack General Hospital had five patients for every four funded acute care spots.

The BC Centre for Disease Control has said, while there are no confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in B.C., they are working closely with hospitals to keep them updated with the latest information about the virus.

“Health care workers across B.C. have been advised to be vigilant, take travel histories of anyone experiencing fever and respiratory illness, and immediately report any suspected cases to their local Medical Health Officers for further investigation,” said Jane Campbell, communications manager for the Provincial Health Services Authority.

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