COVID-19 in BC: End of health care mask mandate violates rights, commissioner says

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BC’s human rights commissioner says the province is failing to uphold the rights of those who are vulnerable and marginalized by ending mask mandates in health-care settings

On Tuesday, Kasari Govender issued a public statement weighing in on the move.

“I have repeatedly expressed concerns about the human rights implications of these policy decisions: that the removal of mask mandates has a disproportionate impact on marginalized people, seniors and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable,” she said.

“This represents a violation of their rights to equal participation in our communities.”

The end of the mandate was announced by officials last week, along with the end of the requirement that visitors to long-term care facilities be tested for COVID-19 and show proof of vaccination. The vaccine mandate for health-care workers remains in place.

Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix cited declining infection rates and increased levels of hybrid immunity as two factors that suggested that BC was “emerging” from the pandemic.

The Govender’s statement says that even if that is the case, the need to protect people in health-care facilities remains and that anything less than a universal mandate falls short.

“All of those present in health-care settings – from patients to visitors to staff – are only there to promote the health of patients. In this setting in particular, the minor inconvenience masks cause for some must be balanced against the more profound harms to the rights of marginalized people to participate in society and, in this case, to access health care,” she wrote.

“Marginalized people, including those seniors and medically vulnerable people who are fully vaccinated, continue to die and face significant illness,” Govender added.

The statement noted that she has faith in the good intentions and hard work of public health officials who make these policies, but that she has an obligation to point out when she thinks those decisions fall short of upholding the human rights of marginalized people.

Following last week’s announcement, BC Green Party Deputy Leader Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed” with the lifting of masking requirements in health-care settings.

Gandhi, the former chief of cardiac surgery at BC Children’s Hospital, said the province’s decision to lift such mandates remove one of the last lines of defense for BC’s most vulnerable population against COVID transmission.

With files from The Canadian Press