VANCOUVER — Health officials in B.C. are introducing new restrictions aimed at slowing down the rapid transmission of COVID-19 in the Central Okanagan region.
Beginning Friday, capacity limits will be placed on indoor and outdoor personal gatherings, bars and nightclubs will be closed, high-intensity indoor fitness classes will be suspended, and several other restrictions are in place.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the new rules at a news conference Friday afternoon, saying they were necessary to slow transmission and allow for increased immunization in the region.
The new rules only apply in the Central Okanagan local health area, where an outbreak was declared last month, prompting officials to reintroduce a mask mandate for all indoor public spaces. That mandate remains in place and is enforceable, Henry said Friday.
“Most of the transmission events we are seeing are through social gatherings,” Henry said. “We now need to take additional restrictions to slow the transmission of COVID-19 in this region.”
The provincial health officer said most of the new infections in the Central Okanagan, a region that includes the City of Kelowna and several surrounding communities, have been among people who are not fully vaccinated.
She also revealed that about 80 per cent of the cases in the region are the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, and said that most of those testing positive are between the ages of 20 and 40.
“We know that (Delta) can spread so much more easily, and that is what is driving the rapid transmission among younger people,” Henry said.
She acknowledged that younger people were the last to be offered COVID-19 vaccines in B.C., and also that they’re a group that tends to have more social connections.
Henry strongly urged everyone who hasn’t been vaccinated yet to do so, and noted that the time between first and second doses has been reduced to just four weeks in the Central Okanagan region.
The changes announced Friday affect a variety of aspects of life in the B.C. Interior.
Unorganized social gatherings, such as dinner parties, are being restricted to 50 people if they’re happening outdoors.
For indoor gatherings, the limit is just five other people or one other household, in addition to the host household.
For formal events, the rules are slightly different. Both indoor and outdoor seated gatherings will be limited to just 50 people, and COVID-19 safety plans must be in place.
Henry acknowledged the potentially detrimental effect this change would have on events that have already been planned for the coming weekend. While she advised people with plans to attend such events to reconsider, if possible, she also said she knows some events can’t be changed immediately.
As a result, the new limits on organized gatherings will not take effect until next week, Henry said.
CHANGES FOR BUSINESSES
Bars and nightclubs have been ordered to close. Restaurants are allowed to remain open for both indoor and outdoor dining, but may not serve parties larger than six people.
Unlike B.C.’s previous, province-wide dining restrictions, those six people are not required to be from the same household, Henry said.
Restaurants with liquor licences must stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. under the new rules, and casinos in the Central Okanagan region will be allowed to remain open, but must adhere to the same rules as restaurants.
Low-intensity indoor fitness classes can continue with their existing capacity limits under the new rules, but high-intensity indoor fitness classes have been cancelled.
Similar to restrictions that were put in place last summer, gatherings at vacation rentals are being limited to five people plus the occupants, Henry said.
B.C. officials are not introducing new travel restrictions, but Henry advised against non-essential travel to the Central Okanagan region.
That recommendation is similar to what the Kelowna’s mayor said last week, after an outbreak was first declared in the area. Colin Basran told would-be visitors to stay away unless they’re vaccinated against COVID-19.
Those who have travelled to Kelowna and surrounding areas in recent days should monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms and get tested as soon as possible if any develop, Henry said.