The provincial government announced a month-long COVID-19 “circuit breaker” for most of Northern B.C. on Thursday, including a 10 p.m. liquor curfew in restaurants, a return to virtual mass church services, and restricting personal gatherings to people who have been vaccinated.
“We are doing this to stop transmission where it is greatest and that is those indoor gatherings where we are coming together where we’re not necessarily wearing masks, where we’re mixing with unvaccinated people and this is where we’re seeing spread,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Henry said the new public health orders include:
Personal gatherings, both indoor and outdoor, will be restricted to fully vaccinated people only;
Indoor gatherings will remain restricted to five people, and outdoor gatherings restricted to 25 people if they are all fully vaccinated;
All indoor and outdoor organized events, such as weddings and parties, require a COVID-19 safety plan. Attendees must wear masks and show proof of vaccination;
Indoor events will be be limited to 50 people even fully vaccinated, and outdoor events up to 100 people are permitted;
Worship services will be limited to virtual services only; single person services will still be allowed;
Liquor service in full-service restaurants will end at 10 p.m. Bars and nightclubs will be closed;
Indoor and outdoor sports events will be limited to 50% capacity and must have a COVID-19 plan. Attendees must wear masks and show proof of vaccination.
“In addition to these changes we are strongly encouraging people to remain within your community unless it is essential to travel for work or medical reasons,” Henry said. “We know this virus right now is spreading rapidly and we take the risk from where we come, we take it with us when we’re travelling, we bring it into that community, and we take that risk home with us.”
The restrictions come into effect at midnight Thursday, which Henry said are “time limited” to Friday, Nov. 19 to cover two viral incubation periods to help stop the rate of severe illness and hospitalizations that is being seen in Northern B.C. The orders apply to all of the Northern Health region, except for the Terrace, Kitimat, Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Stikine, Telegraph Creek, Snow Country, and Nisga'a local health areas.
"Those are areas where we have seen this virus not being able to spread because of those high rates of vaccination and people taking the precautions we’ve asked," Henry said.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said 58 critical care patients have now been transferred from Northern B.C. to hospitals on Vancouver Island or the Lower Mainland, including 25 from the Peace Region. Of the patients that have been transferred, 45 have COVID-19 and all but one not fully vaccinated, he said.
“This is a significant situation … and demonstrates why we need to continue to take action together, why we need a circuit breaker,” Dix said. “We are all in. We have thrown everything in but the kitchen sink and the kitchen sink went in a week ago.”
“We need to take steps together to reduce transmission in the north,” he said.
There were 218 cases of COVID-19 reported in Northeast B.C. between Oct. 3 to 9, including 115 cases in the North Peace, 100 in the South Peace, and 3 in Fort Nelson. Across the Northern Health region, there are 677 active cases, with 129 new cases reported Thursday. There are 87 patients in hospital, 18 in critical care.
In a statement, Northern Health Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Jong Kim urged northern residents to get immunized. He said it will help keep hospitals open to treat people with other illnesses.
“Hospitals in Northern Health are overstretched as beds become filled with COVID-19 patients, primarily unvaccinated. People needing critical care are being transferred to other regions of the province,” said Kim. “Until more people make the choice to get vaccinated, we need to ensure we have orders in place to protect the most vulnerable and limit the spread.”
Henry said the new orders will not apply to Remembrance Day services.
“Those type of important ceremonies are what we call in our technical language, flow through events, where people are able to keep a distance from each other, where it’s outside,” Henry said. “Having said that we encourage people to keep them small. We’ve worked with the legions across B.C. and the Yukon last year and again this year. Keep it small, invite only immunized people to come, and others to watch it on TV or in a small place by themselves.
“We know that the few veterans that are still with us from the Second World War, we know they’re people who want to come to Remembrance Day ceremonies. They’re also people who are more likely to have severe illness or to be susceptible to COVID. So let’s respect them. Keep the event small, wear a mask, keep your distance from others, keep them outside, and have those measures in place to protect each other.”
As of Oct. 12, there were 16,357 Fort St. John residents who had received a first dose of vaccine, up 277 week-over-week. There were 13,529 residents who had received a second dose, up 263 from the week prior.
Dix said no community has raised their vaccination rates more than Fort St. John over the last several weeks, giving a nod to local politicians and industrial employers that have implemented vaccine mandates for workers. Both Dix and Henry said work is ongoing to address and increase both vaccine resupply and clinic availability in the north.
“At some clinics, one or the other vaccine may be the only one available but we can make provisions for people to come back at a time when the other vaccine is available. I also continue to encourage people to take what is there the day that you arrive,” Henry said.
"We've seen a significant uptake in vaccination," Dix added of progress in Fort St. John. "If there's an increase in demand, we're going to meet that demand."
For more details on immunization clinics in northeast B.C., visit the Northern Health website.
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