B.C. public health officials are extending a holiday season slowdown on major northern B.C. construction projects to break the cycle of COVID-19 infections at large work camps.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has posted a new order setting out a slow return to full work at the LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink pipeline works, the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion, the Site C dam and Rio Tinto Alcan’s water tunnel expansion project for the aluminum smelter at Kitimat. The order from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry details the workforce limits for a slow return that was announced before Christmas.
With vaccines now being administered to 10 remote Indigenous reserves, Nothern Health’s capacity for treating and contact tracing is stretched thin as they deal with an increase in infections at work camps in the region.
“This increase has resulted in a increased numbers of clusters of people with COVID-19, outbreaks of COVID-19, the transmission of COVID-19 to surrounding communities, including Indigenous communities, increasing risk of hospitalization, intensive care admissions and deaths in the Northern Health region,” the order states. “It is challenging for public health officials to respond to cases, clusters and outbreaks of infection at remote worksites and industrial camps, and a high volume of cases taxes the capacity of the Northern Health Authority public health system to carry out contact tracing.”
The order restricts the Coastal GasLink project to the holiday-season level of 400 employees through January, then add up to 600 more as the camps along the Highway 16 pipeline route resume operation.
LNG Canada’s liquefied natural gas project at Kitimat can add 400 workers by Jan. 6, reaching 850, with another 250 workers allowed by Jan. 20 and the project up to 1,100 employees by late January.
The Site C dam project near Fort St. John is allowed to go from 400 to 800 workers in early January, with 300 more by Jan. 21 and 1,100 on the job by late January.
Trans Mountain’s twinning of the pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby and Washington state is adding up to 100 more workers to the 50 kept on over the holidays, with 450 more after Feb. 1 and 600 on the job by mid-February.
Rio Tinto Alcan’s T2 water project can go from 160 to 280 workers by mid-January, with the situation to be reassessed in February.
Each project has to submit a restart plan for operations into 2021, to be approved by public health authorities.