All Victoria police may be put on front-line duties as city prepares for COVID surge

VICTORIA — The Victoria Police Department is preparing to move all its available officers to front-line policing duties as it anticipates staffing shortages caused by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

A statement from the department says, for the first time, it is enacting a clause in its contract with its police union that allows for the potential assignment of all officers to front-line duties. 

That work includes anything related to serving the public, such as traffic or crowd control, criminal investigations and arrests.

The statement says the change begins this weekend as some Victoria officers will be redeployed to the patrol division to answer calls for help.

Police, fire departments, school boards, and health-care facilitiesare among many agencies and businesses across British Columbia making plans in case large numbers of workers call in sick as COVID cases surge.

More than one-third of firefighters in Prince Rupert were ill or isolating on Thursday and the Professional Firefighters Association says although COVID is being felt provincewide, fire departments are meeting staffing needs in a variety of ways.

Victoria police Chief Del Manak says maintaining continuity of police operations is critical during the pandemic.

“I am extremely grateful to our officers who are adjusting their shifts and schedules to serve on the front lines, ensuring that citizens of Victoria and Esquimalt know that when they call 911, a uniformed officer will respond to their call for help,” Manak says in the statement.

A spokesman with the Victoria City Police Union says the situation is being monitored and the union hopes COVID infections will decline quickly so its members can return to their regular duties and schedules. 

The Ministry of Health said its latest data from Dec. 15 to 24 shows about 8,700 health-care workers were off due to short-term illness. The government said there are about 216,000 health-care workers in the system.

The ministry said the illnesses could be due to COVID-19 or another reason because health authorities don't require staff to indicate the reason for sick leave.

"Each health authority has contingency plans in place to ensure people in B.C. continue to receive quality care when they need it," it said in an email. "This may include redeployment, relief pools, overtime, or agency staff."

The Provincial Health Services Authority said its most recent data from Jan. 4 showed that 69 of the 4,000 paramedics and dispatchers in the province called in sick, though not necessarily due to COVID-19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2022.

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said there were about 128,000 health-care workers in B.C.


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