B.C. announces new COVID-19 restrictions for Metro Vancouver health regions for 2 weeks as cases surge

·3 min read

British Columbia's top health officials have announced sweeping new COVID-19 restrictions for the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions for a two-week period as cases in the province surge.

The new orders focus on social gatherings, travel, indoor group exercises and workplaces.

"We need to keep essential services and activities from schools to workplaces open and operating safely. And right now this is in jeopardy," said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry at a rare Saturday briefing.

Residents of the two affected health regions are being told not to engage in social interactions outside their immediate households. Weddings and funerals can proceed, as long as they include only immediate household members.

She said people who live alone can maintain a small bubble of one to two people, but that advice does not apply to people who live in a larger household.

Henry strongly recommended that travel in and out of the Fraser Health region and Vancouver Coastal Health region be limited to essential travel only.

The new public health orders are in effect from Saturday night at 10 p.m. to Monday Nov. 23 at noon. A number of communities in the health authorities are exempt including Hope, Bella Coola, the Central Coast, Sunshine Coast and Howe Sound areas.

Indoor group fitness ordered to close

Businesses and recreation centres have been ordered to stop holding indoor group physical activities for two weeks, including yoga, spin, dance, and group fitness classes. Fitness centres that cater to individuals, where physical distancing can be maintained, can remain open.

Indoor sports where physical distancing can't be maintained are suspended, though this does not apply to physical activities in schools.

Henry said workplaces must ensure physical distancing, especially in break rooms and kitchens. She said businesses that can't maintain COVID-19 protocols will be shut down by health officers and restaurants that can't adhere to safety plans may have to revert to take-out only.

Party buses and limousines are ordered to stop operating immediately.

The restrictions do not apply to religious gatherings, so long as physical distancing can be maintained, and gatherings remain under 50 people.

"This is the road we must walk and must walk together … we are all in this together," said Henry. "We will get through these challenges. We have flattened our curve in the past and we will do it again. These next two weeks will be critical for us."

Henry said that while businesses that fail to comply with safety protocols could be shut down, B.C. has no plans to increase enforcement on shutting down social gatherings.

"We don't necessarily need to enforce it. These are the rules and we know that people understand the rationale and, for the most part, they follow them," she said.

"Having said that, we do have the ability to enforce rules through PHO and bylaw officers and police, but I don't believe this is necessary."

Cases surge to record highs

The restrictions come as B.C. reports 567 new cases of COVID-19 in the most recent 24-hour period, and one new death. The province reported 589 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, up from 425 on Thursday and 334 on Wednesday. The province also reported two new deaths on Friday, bringing the total to 276.

Henry said the new number of cases in B.C. have become"dangerously high," with health officials noting that a linear growth pattern, which had been manageable, had turned into exponential growth.

"Provincial health orders are always a last resort but right now these measures are necessary," she said.

"I know this is hard. I know we don't want to have to be doing this."

Health Minister Adrian Dix said that the increase over the past two weeks has been worrying and encouraged people living in other health regions to remain vigilant.

"As all of you know the level of COVID-19 have been lower in B.C. than other jurisdictions, than other places in the world … that said, we need to take urgent and focused action now," he said.