VANCOUVER — British Columbia may not advance as expected to the next step in its COVID-19 restart plan as case counts surge in the Interior Health region, the province's top doctor says.
As provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry was announcing tighter restrictions to cover all of the Interior Health region, she said it won't be a surprise if the province doesn't advance to Step 4 in September.
"It's very likely that we won't be seeing a move to any more loosening of restrictions in the near term," she said, adding that the province has met its immunization targets, but case numbers and hospitalizations remain high.
Under B.C.'s restart plan, Step 4 would mark a return to largely pre-pandemic life, with normal contact allowed and increased capacity at events, such as concerts.
But that step may be delayed as the Interior Health region sees a rise in COVID-19 cases.
On Friday, Henry expanded restrictions currently in place in the central Okanagan, such as mandatory mask wearing and reduced limits on indoor and outdoor events, across the entire Interior Health region.
"This is a pre-emptive measure," Henry said. "And it is important for all of us to recognize that we can control the things that we are doing that is transmitting this virus and one of the most important ones is to be immunized."
British Columbia reported 663 new cases of COVID-19 Friday. More than half of the 6,345 active cases were in the Interior Health region.
The province said 129 people are in hospital, 59 of whom are in intensive care. There has also been one new death, bringing the death toll to 1,785.
The Fraser Health authority is also reporting a COVID-19 outbreak at Peace Arch hospital after two patients tested positive for the virus.
Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix attributed the spike in cases in the Interior to lower vaccination rates.
The displacement of many residents ordered out of their homes because of wildfires has made containing COVID-19 especially challenging, Henry said.
"It has strained health resources in a number of communities across Interior Health," she said. "We really needed to take a regional approach to account for the fact that people are being displaced and moved across the Interior Health region."
She said the larger caseload is placing too much pressure on local health services, prompting them to widen the safety measures to the entire region.
Roughly 76 per cent of eligible residents have received a single vaccination shot in Interior Health, dropping to 68 per cent for those who are fully vaccinated, Dix said.
Vaccinations rates have gone up where they were once low, such as Kelowna, and concerns remain about the entirety of the region, the minister said.
The provincial total is 83 per cent for a single shot for those 12 and up, and 74.3 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Dix added that there will be a "significant" number of activities that those who refuse vaccinations will not be able to do.
"We can do better and there are issues in parts of Interior Health," he said.
"It's time for people to get vaccinated."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 20, 2021.
Nick Wells, The Canadian Press