B.C. announces new restrictions on social gatherings, travel provincewide
VICTORIA -- All of British Columbia is now under the same stay-at-home orders that health officials imposed last week on the Lower Mainland.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Thursday that all B.C. residents are urged to socialize only with fellow household members and to avoid social gatherings of all kinds and sizes for the next two and a half weeks.
These gatherings include attending places of worship, which have been ordered not to hold in-person services until Dec. 7. Funerals and weddings may proceed with a maximum attendance of 10 people, including the officiant, but associated receptions are not allowed.
Taking a walk outside with a friend is still permitted, and so is allowing a grandparent to pick up a child from school or having a contractor fix something in a home, Henry said.
People who live alone cannot host gatherings but may socialize with a maximum of two people within their core social bubble.
Travel outside of local health regions is also restricted to essential travel only until at least Dec. 7.
While B.C.'s top doctor did not impose travel restrictions into or out of the province, she said people who can postpone their travel plans until the order is lifted should do so.
"It is our expectation that everybody in B.C. right now will limit their travel as much as possible unless it is essential," Henry said. "This includes travel within the province and travel to other parts of Canada."
Masks mandatory indoors
Restaurants and other businesses that continue to comply with public health protocols for COVID-19 will remain open, Henry said.
Masks are now mandatory in all indoor public places, retail spaces and grocery stores, except when eating or drinking. The order applies to common areas in workplaces, including elevators and waiting rooms.
The order also applies to restaurants at all times when patrons are not eating or drinking.
Henry said social gatherings, not workplaces, continue to fuel the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases in B.C.
When workplace outbreaks occur, Henry said it is most often the result of staff gatherings such as parties, carpooling or lunchroom gatherings, rather than normal business activities.
The provincial health officer urged all employers to delay bringing workers back into the workplace if they are currently working from home.
Workplace inspections will increase provincewide to ensure compliance with COVID-19 rules. Henry said any business that fails to comply with public health rules around mask use, sanitization, contact tracing and physical distancing will be fined or forced to close.
New restrictions on sports and fitness classes
Indoor group fitness classes are also suspended until Dec. 7. Henry singled out hot yoga classes, high-intensity training and group spin classes as particular targets of the health order due to the high risk of exposing clients to the virus in confined, poorly ventilated spaces.
Recreational sports organizations are still allowed to operate under the province’s Phase 3 recovery rules, however, spectators are now barred from attending events, whether indoors or outdoors. Additionally, travel from one region to another for sports is prohibited.
Schools will remain open under existing public health measures, Henry said.
The B.C. health ministry imposed similar restrictions last week on the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions, but new cases of the coronavirus have continued to climb across the province. The local restrictions were originally set to expire on Nov. 23, but will now remain in place until Dec. 7.
Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said that while the provincewide restrictions are in place until Dec. 7, the orders will be extended if the COVID-19 infection rate does not trend downward.
On Wednesday, health officials announced a record-breaking 762 new cases of COVID-19 in B.C., as well as 10 more deaths related to the virus.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there have been 24,960 confirmed infections in the province and 321 deaths.