COVID numbers surge in B.C. as Halloween crowd gathers in Vancouver

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VANCOUVER — As British Columbia reported a record surge in COVID-19 cases that health officials called concerning, Vancouver police say some people flouted pandemic rules in an "alcohol-fuelled" gathering in the city's entertainment district. 

Deputy provincial health officer Dr. Reka Gustafson said Monday there have been 1,120 new cases over three days with an additional six deaths, bringing the total number of people who died to 269.

The weekend also saw large and "hostile" crowds gathering for the Halloween weekend in Vancouver's entertainment district, despite COVID-19 restrictions, police said. 

Health Minister Adrian Dix called the gathering "simply disgraceful," especially since a majority of people have been following public health orders.

Vancouver police spokeswoman Const. Tania Visintin said officers were called to the area Saturday night when a growing crowd of people weren't paying attention to physical distancing rules. 

Officers stopped a Range Rover for a traffic violation and those inside "swarmed" the police, she said. 

Visintin said the officers called for help, with their main concerns being public and officer safety and preventing property damage.

"We needed to be there to prevent fights, prevent damage to property and worse, prevent any riots that could have happened." 

When the crowd grew, the officers called for backup and one man was arrested for jumping on the hood of a police vehicle, she said. 

A rear passenger side window was smashed on another police vehicle and an arrest has not been made in that incident. 

Attempting to disperse the crowd or issue tickets wasn't appropriate, she added. 

She said police did not expect that many people out on the streets Halloween night. 

"During a global pandemic, you would not expect to see a crowd this large congregating on the streets," Visintin said.

"It's concerning and quite frankly, it's selfish. I feel like these people don't care about anything but themselves." 

Saanich police also said they issued a $2,300 ticket to a person early Sunday morning for hosting a Halloween party with 30 people inside the house. Last week, the provincial health officer limited the size of gatherings in B.C. homes to those who live there plus six people. 

In spite of the photos and reports of large crowds, health officials said they would not be implementing any additional restrictions just yet.

Gustafson said there is not a "specific number" but rather "there's a number of things" that health officials monitor such as hospitalizations and patients in intensive care. They are using "tools" such as contact tracing and testing to respond when needed, she added.

As the weather gets cooler and people retreat indoors, she said, there are bound to be "fluctuations and surges in some communities," as was recently seen in the Fraser Valley region.

"When we do experience these surges, we need to respond with increased efforts and stepped-up focus, using all of the public health measures that we have available to us."

Health officials design their interventions on areas where transmissions occur, she said.

"It's a science-based response, so it's not something that we can predict ahead of time, but we certainly are monitoring the data all the time."

B.C. has had 15,501 positive cases, while 12,207 people are considered recovered. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2020. 

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press