The provincial health office is advising travelers from northern B.C. and other regions of the province not to travel to the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health regions unless it is essential to try to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The pandemic continues to ravage the province, with 567 new cases and one death reported Saturday and all but 34 of positive tests were either in Fraser Health (411) or Vancouver Coastal (122).
Nine new cases were discovered in the Northern Health region, while Interior Health reported 22 and Island Health had three. That brings the B.C. total, since the pandemic began in March, to 17,716 cases.
The majority of the new cases are tied to transmission in people’s homes, workplaces, food processing facilities, retail outlets, public venues and indoor group physical activities.
“Weneed to keep essential services and activities from schools to workplaces open and operating safely… and right now this is in jeopardy,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie ata Saturday news conference in Victoria.
As a result of the continuing surge, the province has issued new orders which will restrict individuals, places of work and businesses everywhere in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health regions except Hope, the central coast and Bella Coola Valley. The stricter orders take effect at 10 p.m. Saturday and will continue at least until Nov. 23.
“We made the decision that we needed to take time-limited, additional measures to reduce the rapidly increasing transmission rates here (referring to the two most affected regions). It does not mean we're out of the woods and we can back off in other areas of the province. It just means we need to keep holding the fort there.”
“The orders focus on three areas: social gatherings, group physical activities and workplaces. We are putting measures in place to better protect people who participate in group physical activities and we are also requiring all businesses and worksites to revisit and ensure strict adherence to their COVID-19 safety protocols. We appreciate this takes sustained daily effort and sacrifice, but these actions are critical to us keeping businesses open and communities safe over the winter months.
“We are strongly recommending travel into and out of these regions be limited to essential travel only and people within the regions stay within their local community, as much as possible,” she said. “We ask those who live outside of the regions not to visit unless it is essential.”
For social gatherings in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal areas, Henry said there are to be none of any size with anyone other than your immediate household. That includes indoor gatherings of fewer than 50 people, even in controlled settings. People who live alone must host no gatherings but can continue to see members of their respective pandemic bubbles in their homes.
Funerals and weddings are allowed but only with immediate household members attending and no receptions allowed. Party buses and limousines operating in the two regions are ordered to stop operating.
“I know this is hard. I know we don't want to have to be doing this,” Henry said. “This is a time-limited order. But this is what we need to do now.”
Metro Vancouver businesses, recreation centres and other organizations that have been conducting indoor group physical activities have been ordered to stop those activities until an updated COVID-19 safety plan has been approved. Indoor sports where physical distancing cannot be maintained are suspended for two weeks but can be replaced by individual exercise or reducing the number of participants to the point where physical distancing is maintained. All sports-related travel in and out of the two regions is suspended.
Businesses and workplaces are required to provide daily screening of all on-site workers as outlined in COVID safety plans. Henry reminded workers and customers visiting workplaces have to maintain physical distance, wear masks when appropriate and avoid gathering in small office spaces, break rooms and kitchens.
Henry promised inspections will be increased and businesses that fail to comply with the new orders will be fined or ordered to close until a revised safety plan to comply has been approved.
“Provincial health officer orders are always a last resort, and these additional measures are required right now,” Henry said. “We need everyone to help us keep our wall strong to re-double our efforts to protect our hospitals, our schools, our workplaces and our communities.