Health officials are implementing new COVID-19 restrictions for B.C.’s Northern Health authority, which include strict limits on gatherings and closure of bars and nightclubs.
The announcement came Thursday during a press conference with Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
The restrictions, which will be in place until Nov. 19, comes as the northern rural health region is seeing a spike in cases and high transmission, with hospitals being overwhelmed.
“Personal gatherings, both indoor and outdoor, will be restricted to fully vaccinated people only,” Henry said.
“If you are unvaccinated or have unvaccinated people in your households, then you need to stay with your household only.”
The restrictions apply to the entire Northern Health Region with the exception of the local health areas west of Kitwanga, including Terrace, Kitimat, Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Stikine, Telegraph, Snow Country and the Nisga’a areas. That’s because transmission is lower in these areas due to high vaccination rates, Henry said.
Henry said she hopes the new, temporary measures will allow people to gather for the winter holidays.
“We are intending this circuit breaker to save lives, to lower the rates of transmission to allow our hospitalizations to stabilize and enable us all to come back together safely and to celebrate during the upcoming holiday season.”
Indoor gatherings will remain restricted to five people, and outdoor gatherings to 25, provided everyone is fully vaccinated. Organized events will be limited to 50 if indoors and 100 people if outdoors.
Bars and nightclubs will be closed completely, Henry said. Restaurants that offer full meal services may serve alcohol, but they will have to stop doing so at 10 p.m.
Henry said the timing of the restrictions is for “two incubation periods,” and she hopes the measure will relieve pressure on the health-care system.
Infection rates have been so high in Northern Health that local hospitals have been overwhelmed. So far 58 patients have been transferred to hospitals in other health authorities – an increase from 55 on Tuesday. The region only has 63 intensive care beds, 23 of which have been temporarily added during the pandemic.
In-person religious gatherings and worship services are also on hold, Henry said, however religious organizations may create spaces where people can go for solitary “quiet reflection.”
“It is no longer safe for us to have a mixing of people who are unvaccinated in these worship settings.”
Sports events with spectators, both indoor and outdoor, will be limited to 50 per cent capacity.
“Those are the things that we need to scale back now, so that we can stop this transmission, we can prevent those people who are not yet protected through vaccination from getting seriously ill,” she said.
Henry said the new Delta variant is spreading quickly.
“It’s way more transmissible, it spreads faster and with a small amount of exposure.”
“We are seeing it cause more severe illness in younger people,” Henry added.
Unvaccinated people in their teens, 20s, 30s and 40s who are not vaccinated, are ending up in hospital, she said.