Vancouver needs help as it focuses COVID-19 response on Downtown Eastside: mayor

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart says there are no confirmed outbreaks or clusters of COVID-19 in the city's Downtown Eastside, where many residents have underlying health conditions and face barriers to following social-isolation protocols.

But he said Friday it's "simply a matter of time" before COVID-19 spreads in communities across B.C., and the city's top priority is keeping transmission levels low in the Downtown Eastside for as long as possible.

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Recent income, food, cleaning and other supports are "stop gaps" for the next few weeks and the city needs help from higher levels of government to keep these efforts going, he said.

Stewart said there's been "unprecedented" collaboration with the owners of private single room occupancy buildings, or SROs, which house thousands of vulnerable residents.

He said Vancouver has arranged for daily commercial cleaning in more than 20 private SROs for the next two weeks, and at the same time around 1,100 residents will receive meal deliveries to help with physical distancing.

Stewart said BC Housing has also secured hundreds of hotel rooms in Vancouver for people who are homeless or precariously housed and who need to self-isolate.

Referral-only emergency response centres are now open with room for 160 people at the Coal Harbour and Roundhouse community centres, he said, and the city has expanded hygiene stations in the Downtown Eastside.

"We are talking to senior levels of government and other funding partners from charitable and philanthropic communities about how we can keep these programs going and add more services and programs that will slow transmission as we head toward the peak of the outbreak."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2020.

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