Duelling protests in Vancouver on 3-year pandemic anniversary

Saturday marks the third anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic.

The past 36 months saw mass lockdowns, mandatory masking, and policy changes that caused backlash across the province.

On Saturday morning, a convoy opposed to Bill 36 made its way down West 4th Avenue in Vancouver, where members were looking to join a group on the corner of Vine Street asking people to sign a petition against the legislation.

Bill 36 was introduced in the fall, as hospitals and doctors’ offices began seeing more sick patients. The legislation merges regulatory colleges and alters how they fundamentally function.

Regulatory colleges oversee whether technical standards and professional guidelines are followed for health-care personnel, including nurses, doctors, psychologists and pharmacists.

The province has characterized the bill as necessary to streamline the number of colleges from 15 down to six, but the legislation also changes how board members are appointed and who gets the final say on professional misconduct decisions. 

As the convoy members approached their final destination, they were met by a line of counter-protesters in the intersection at Arbutus Street, where the two sides exchanged their views on Bill 36 but also vaccine efficacy and safety.

The standoff caused traffic chaos, as drivers were forced to turn around and find alternate routes with the help of traffic authorities.

After nearly two hours, with the help of the Vancouver Police Department, a compromise was reached between the two sides, and the neighbourhood was reopened.

The opposing groups carried on with their demonstrations on the sidewalk on Vine Street.

After 36 months, the pandemic continues to divide British Columbians.

On Saturday, the medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, Dr. Brain Conway, reflected on the pandemic and its impacts.

“It’s been generational; the world has changed in ways we have yet to completely understood, and in some cases for the better, with lessons learned going forward,” said Conway.

“Some people have been (hurt), and we need to understand that and begin to work towards repairing some of the damage and ills that have been done.”

Whether it was losing employment, schools being closed, or policies dividing the public, Conway says it’s time to talk about this openly and learn from it to move forward.

Conway also stressed that COVID-19 is still in the community and asks people to stay home when they’re feeling sick and keep up with vaccinations.

The provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, delivered a similar message on Friday afternoon when addressing the current COVID-19 situation in B.C.

“COVID-19 is still with us, and we are still seeing higher levels than we saw for some time,” said Henry. “(It’s) a good reminder that we need to stay vigilant to protect ourselves, our loved ones, communities and families.”

During the news conference, while Henry reflected on the pandemic, she became emotional when speaking about the challenges British Columbians endured.

“When you’re in the middle of hard, everything feels like failure, and I think that was a very challenging time, and again, I lift my hands up to communities who supported each other,” she said.

The most recent data from the province shows since the pandemic began, 33,646 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and 5,249 have died, though not all of those hospitalizations and deaths were directly caused by the disease.

As of Thursday, 205 people were in hospital with the coronavirus.

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