British Columbia’s top health officials announced new COVID-19 restrictions for the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions for a period of two weeks, as cases increase in the province.
The new public health orders are in effect from Saturday night, at 10 pm, until Monday, November 23, at noon. The central coast and Bella Coola are exempt from the new restrictions.
“We need to keep essential services and activities from schools to workplaces open and operating safely. And now this is in danger,” said provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, at a rare meeting on Saturday.
The new orders focus on social gatherings, travel, internal group exercises and workplaces.
Residents of the two affected health regions are being instructed not to engage in social interactions outside their immediate families. Weddings and funerals can go on, as long as they include only immediate family members.
She said that people who live alone can keep a small bubble of one or two people, but that advice does not apply to people who live in a large house.
Henry strongly recommended that round trips to the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health region be limited to essential travel only.
Indoor group fitness ordered to close
Businesses and recreational centers were forced to interrupt group physical activity for two weeks, including yoga, spin, dance and group gym classes. Fitness centers geared to individuals, where physical distance can be maintained, can remain open.
Indoor sports where physical distance cannot be maintained are suspended, although this does not apply to physical activities in schools.
Henry said workplaces should ensure physical distance, especially in rest rooms and kitchens. She said that companies that cannot maintain COVID-19 protocols will be closed by health workers and restaurants that cannot adhere to security plans may have to revert to just take-out food.
Party buses and limousines must stop operating immediately
The restrictions do not apply to religious meetings, as long as the physical distance can be maintained and the meetings remain below 50 people.
“This is the road we have to take and we must walk together … we are all in this together,” said Henry. “We will overcome these challenges. We have flattened our curve in the past and will do it again. The next two weeks will be critical for us.”
Henry said that although companies that do not comply with security protocols may be closed, the BC has no plans to increase oversight over the closure of social gatherings.
“We don’t necessarily need to apply it. These are the rules and we know that people understand the logic and, most of the time, follow them ”, she said.
“That said, we have the ability to enforce the rules through the PHO and the statute and police officers, but I don’t think it’s necessary.”
Cases rise to record highs
The restrictions come at a time when the BC reports 567 new cases of COVID-19 in the most recent 24-hour period and a new death. The province reported 589 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, compared to 425 on Thursday and 334 on Wednesday.
The province also recorded two new deaths on Friday, bringing the total to 275.
Henry said the new number of cases in BC has become “dangerously high”, with health officials noting that a pattern of linear growth, which was manageable, has turned into exponential growth.
“Provincial health orders are always the last resort, but now these measures are necessary,” she said.
“I know this is difficult. I know we don’t want to have to do this.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the increase in the past two weeks has been worrying and encourages people living in other health regions to remain vigilant.
“As you all know, the level of COVID-19 has been lower in BC than other jurisdictions, than elsewhere in the world … That said, we need to take urgent and focused action now,” he said.