Victoria: British Columbia’s experiences fighting COVID-19 have led to a $1.6-billion fall pandemic plan that includes more virus testing, contact tracing and a campaign to administer almost two million flu shots, Premier John Horgan said Wednesday.

Much has been learned about COVID-19 since March, but with the coming flu season and rising infection numbers, more protection measures are needed, Horgan said.

“Seven months later and we know a great deal more than we did then, and we are building every week on the steps that we’ve been able to take here in B.C. to keep British Columbians safe,” Horgan said at a news conference.

Nineteen hospitals are now prepared to handle COVID-19 scenarios ranging from low to exceptional outbreaks during the fall and winter months, he said.

The preparations will also include the capacity to conduct up to 20,000 daily COVID-19 tests, hiring more than 600 additional contact tracers and purchasing more than 1.9 million doses of flu vaccine, said Horgan.

Older people, who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, will be the focus of increased protections, he said.

The government will hire 2,000 additional staff for long-term care homes and will embark on a program to train and hire 5,000 new care aides to help older people, he said. The government will also provide 45,000 high-dose flu shots for seniors.

“Our pandemic plan has been working,” Horgan said. “We need to accelerate. We need to up our game.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said B.C. has purchased its highest-ever number of flu vaccines.

“Our fall influenza plan is going to be on a scale we have not yet seen,” she said. “We know how important it is to protect all from influenza.”

Henry said she wanted as many people as possible to get a flu shot.

“We all want to stay healthy during this coming season,” she said.

Henry said influenza in the Northern Hemisphere usually starts in October and November and peaks in December and January. She said the recent flu season in the Southern Hemisphere has been relatively mild, which may be a result of increased vaccinations.

Henry ordered nightclubs and stand-alone banquet halls to close indefinitely Tuesday, saying she was concerned about increases in COVID-19 cases from locations where alcohol was being served.

By Dirk Meissner

The Canadian Press