VICTORIA -- The B.C. government has declared a provincial state of emergency in response to the global coronavirus pandemic. 

The declaration gives the government sweeping powers to seize land or personal property, remove or restrict people from anywhere in the province and control the price of food, fuel and clothing.

The emergency declaration, announced Wednesday by Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, is in effect for 14 days, but may be extended or cancelled at any time.

The move isn't without recent precedent.

Provincial states of emergency were declared in 2017 and 2018 to deal with summer wildfires, with the 2017 declaration remaining in place for 10 weeks.

Under B.C.'s Emergency Program Act, the province can take any or all actions to alleviate the effects of the emergency, including:

  • acquire or use any land or personal property considered necessary to prevent, respond to or alleviate the effects of an emergency or disaster;
  • authorize or require any person to render assistance of a type that the person is qualified to provide or that otherwise is or may be required to prevent, respond to or alleviate the effects of an emergency or disaster;
  • control or prohibit travel to or from any area of British Columbia;
  • cause the evacuation of persons and the removal of livestock, animals and personal property from any area of British Columbia;
  • authorize the entry into any building or on any land, without warrant, by any person;
  • cause the demolition or removal of any trees, structures or crops;
  • construct works considered necessary or appropriate;
  • procure, fix prices for or ration food, clothing, fuel, equipment, medical supplies or other essential supplies and the use of any property, services, resources or equipment within any part of British Columbia for the duration of the state of emergency.

The public safety minister's emergency declaration came 24 hours after the provincial health officer declared a public health emergency.

Under a public health emergency, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has the power to issue verbal orders that become immediately enforceable under law. Henry did so Tuesday, ordering bars and nightclubs closed across the province.

Henry said the declaration allows the public health officer to be "faster, more streamlined and nimble in the things that we need to do right now."

Other powers of the health officer under the Public Health Act include:

  • conducting an inspection at any time without warrant, including of a private dwelling;
  • collecting or disclosing any information, including personal information, that could not otherwise be collected or disclosed;
  • asking a provincial judge to detain a person who does not comply with a public health order or instruction;

The provincial health officer can also instruct health-care workers to provide services anywhere in the province, including outside the health region in which they were hired.

In April 2016, the province declared a public health emergency in response to the opioid overdose crisis.