Australia Day celebrations could be responsible for COVID-19 uptick at Big White Ski Resort, operator says

·2 min read

Unsanctioned celebrations of Australia's national holiday may be responsible for a new uptick in COVID-19 cases at the Great White Ski Resort near Kelowna, B.C., the facility's operator says.

On Tuesday, Interior Health said it had identified five new cases of coronavirus linked to a cluster of infections first detected in mid-December that has impacted a total of 231 people so far.

That's up from just one new case detected the previous week. The total number of active cases is also up slightly, from 15 last week to 16 currently.

Big White marketing director Michael J. Ballingall said that based on what he's seen on social media, the latest cases could be due to parties and gatherings celebrating Australia Day on Jan. 26.

Darrian Traynor/Getty Images
Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

"It was definitely some unsanctioned gathering around the mountain," Ballingall said.

Australia Day celebrations have become a tradition at the resort due to the large number of Australian nationals who work there. Ballingal said at the moment, roughly 22 per cent of Big White's staff are Australian in origin.

Under B.C. government's current ban effective until Friday, no social gatherings of any size with people outside of their households or core social bubble are allowed indoors and outdoors.

Ballingall says Big White has security staff patrolling on the mountain to make sure people are following the public health order.

He also says four guests were denied access to the slopes on Monday because they refused to mask up.

Ski communities across the province have been troubled by the surge in COVID-19 cases over the past two months. Whistler has already seen more than 300 cases in January alone, while Fernie in the Kootenays has recorded 98 cases since its cluster was declared last week.

With Super Bowl Sunday around the corner, Ballingall is asking people in the Big White community to gather with family members only.

"This isn't the year to have a gathering [with people outside of the corre social bubble] for Super Bowl," he said.