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Friday, December 3, 2021

‘We are not quite there’: B.C. still not ready to ease restrictions, health officials say

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VANCOUVER —
Rising COVID-19 case numbers and an increasing test-positivity rate have quashed any hope of B.C. easing province-wide restrictions at the end of February.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry broke the news at her coronavirus briefing on Thursday, revealing that several of the key metrics officials monitor to determine the severity of the pandemic have taken a turn for the worse.

“We are continuing to watch these indicators and when we have confidence that they are slowing in a sustained way, that is when we’ll be able to ease restrictions,” Henry said. “But we are not quite there yet.”

B.C.’s rolling seven-day average for new cases recently topped 500 for the first time since mid-January, after decreasing to 407 just last week. Henry said the number of COVID-19 tests coming back positive has also “crept up” to 6.7 per cent, with the Fraser Health and Northern Health regions at 8 per cent and 11.5 per cent, respectively.

The province’s COVID-19 reproductive number, which is an average of how many additional infections are generated by each new case, has also surpassed one.

“What that means is that there’s potential for rapid growth if we’re not careful,” Henry said.

“This tells us that every person, on average, who’s infected is spreading to more than one other person. This is something we need to watch.”

Earlier this month, health officials announced an indefinite extension of the province-wide ban on social gatherings and events, citing, in part, growing concerns around the spread of COVID-19 variants.

At the time, Henry indicated the tough-but-temporary restrictions could be relaxed at the end of February, but only if B.C. could successfully manage its caseload.

“We’re all keen to get to that point where we can safely spend time with more of our family and our friends, when we can travel, at least within B.C., and resume some of those things that we have all put on hold for these long winter months,” Henry said Thursday.

The provincial health officer said the government is now “looking ahead into March” for when some of those restrictions might be eased, including the ban on in-person religious services.

B.C.’s number of active cases has also increased since restrictions were extended at the beginning of the month, though hospitalizations have dropped from 253 down to 228.

There are also fewer deaths being recorded on average, and the number of outbreaks in long-term care homes and assisted living facilities has been steadily dropping. Health officials have credited that development to the widespread vaccination of seniors in care.

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