B.C. announces new regional restrictions as COVID-19 cases surge
VICTORIA -- Health officials in British Columbia announced a series of new lockdown measures for the most populous areas of the province Saturday, as COVID-19 cases continue to surge to record-breaking levels.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced four public health orders for the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions, calling her decision to impose the restrictions "challenging" but necessary at this time.
Henry also announced that 567 new cases of the virus have been identified in the past 24 hours, and one more person has died.
The health orders will be in place for two weeks, effective from 10 p.m. Saturday until the afternoon of Nov. 23, and are intended to reduce social gatherings and prevent the spread of the virus.
The first order restricts all social gatherings of any size in the Fraser and Vancouver regions to immediate household members only. This includes gatherings for events like weddings and funerals.
The second order restricts travel into and out of the Vancouver and Fraser regions to essential travel only. Anyone who lives outside these regions is encouraged not to visit unless absolutely necessary. Travel into the regions for recreational sports activities is prohibited.
The third order pertains to indoor recreation centres and gyms in the two health regions. The order means these businesses must cease classes and indoor group activities until new safety plans are in place and approved by provincial health officials.
Individual fitness activities or one-on-one fitness training can continue as usual.
The final order applies to workplaces in the two health regions, and dictates that all workplaces must conduct active symptom screening for employees. Henry said provincial workplace inspectors will be out in force to ensure workplace compliance. Where possible, employers are asked to encourage employees to work from home.
Restaurants can continue to operate under existing restrictions on operating hours, room capacities and limits of six people per table.
“Provincial health orders are always a last resort but right now these additional measures are needed,” Henry said.
For those areas of the province not covered by the new restrictions, Health Minister Adrian Dix urged residents to remain vigilant about preventing the spread of the virus.
“We’ve seen in other jurisdictions – jurisdictions with very few cases – we’ve seen that change very quickly,” Dix warned. “This is a worldwide pandemic and we need to address it everywhere in British Columbia.”
“It does not mean that we are out of the woods and we can back off in other areas of the province,” Henry added.
The provincial health officer stressed that schools will remain open for the foreseeable future. Travel into and out of the province will not be restricted, nor will ferry travel.
567 new cases, one death
British Columbia’s top doctor also announced 567 new cases of COVID-19 were identified in the province Saturday. One more person has also died of the disease, bringing the provincial death toll to 276.
B.C. has recorded 17,716 total cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began. More than 100 people are now in hospital with the disease, including 31 people in critical or intensive care.
The announcement comes one day after B.C. reported a record-breaking 589 new cases of COVID-19, shattering the previous record of 425 daily cases set just one day prior.
Active cases of the virus also hit all-time highs this week and hospitalizations have risen to levels not seen since the earliest weeks of the pandemic.
The Island Health region reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the region’s total cases since the pandemic began to 289, including six deaths.
“We need to go back to what we were doing in March and April and May,” Henry said of the new restrictions. “We are advising in the strongest terms that people need to stay in their local community, reduce their social interactions and travel when it’s essential.”