The province is bringing in a set of sweeping COVID-19 restrictions ahead of the holidays as Omicron cases surge in B.C.
The new rules, which come into effect as of 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday (Dec. 22) and run until Jan. 18, will close bars, nightclubs, gyms, fitness centres and dance studios. Restaurants will be reduced to six people per table. Support measures for businesses shut down by the new COVID measures are being worked on, provincial officials said.
They will also ban indoor organized gatherings such as wedding receptions and reduce capacity at seated events such as concerts, movies and sports to 50 per cent capacity, regardless of the size of the venue. Religious services will be unaffected and remain at full capacity if all attendees are vaccinated or 50 per cent if they are not,
The new restrictions come just days after public health officials announced their first slew of orders banning New Year’s Eve parties, sports tournaments until the end of January and mingling at restaurants. The B.C. vaccine card must now also be checked at any organized events, no matter how few people are in attendance.
Health officials have said that the Omicron variant is much more transmissible than Delta and is swiftly replacing it, especially in Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health.
The largest spike has been in British Columbians ages 18 to 35.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said that data is still coming in on how severe Omicron cases will be but that B.C. cannot afford to strain its healthcare system further. However, Henry said that the “best case scenario” of Omicron being much milder than previous variants is unlikely to pan out.
She said that increased hospitalizations in places like Quebec and the U.K. are concerning.
“We know that it is inevitable now that most of us in the province will be exposed at some point… it is over time very likely that all of us will have exposure to it,” Henry said, adding that breakthrough cases appear to be more common for the vaccinated and previously infected.
There is however no added restriction or advisory on non-essential travel, although health officials are urging the unvaccinated to stay put.
For people wanting to see family for what may be their first holiday gatherings since 2019, Henry said that groups must be kept small, vaccinated and well-ventilated. There is a limit of one additional household or 10 visitors for personal gatherings.
She urged British Columbians who do gather this holiday season to pick their group and stick to it, instead of having one group of people over on one day and 10 different people the next.
Surgeries postponed in the new year
Starting on Jan. 4, scheduled – non-urgent and non-emergency – surgeries will be postponed. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the postponements were necessary to manage pressure on hospitals and to allow for staff to be redeployed as needed.
“Approximately in the range of 3,000 to 3,500 less surgeries a week, allowing our hospital staff to prepare and treat and support and help COVID-19 patients who will be coming to hospital in larger numbers,” Dix said, adding that those surgeries will be rescheduled as capacity allows.