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More restrictions as COVID-19 cases spike in B.C.'s Okanagan: top doctor

VANCOUVER — British Columbia health officials announced circuit-breaker restrictions in the central Okanagan region amid a surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the highly infectious Delta variant. Provincial health officer Dr.

VANCOUVER — British Columbia health officials announced circuit-breaker restrictions in the central Okanagan region amid a surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the highly infectious Delta variant. 

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the Delta variant is driving the rapid spread in the area, accounting for 80 per cent of the COVID-19 cases among those who aren't vaccinated or who have only had one shot. 

The surge in cases is mostly seen in Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country and Rutland. She said many of the infections are in people between the ages of 20 and 40. 

"Most of the transmission events we are seeing are through social gatherings, whether that's in vacation rental, people coming together and having parties, in bars and nightclubs that we've seen," she told a news conference Friday. 

"We've seen transmission in fitness centers, and personal gatherings from parties to weddings to other events." 

To curb the further spread of the virus, she said outdoor gatherings will once again be limited to 50 individuals, while indoor get-togethers are reduced to five extra people, plus those in the household. 

Nightclubs and bars are closed and liquor cutoff is at 10 p.m. at restaurants. High-intensity indoor fitness classes are cancelled. Low-intensity exercise at fitness centres is still permitted. 

Health officials are asking people who intended to travel to the central Okanagan to try to change their plans, Henry said. 

Mask wearing became mandatory starting the last week of July in all indoor public places in the central Okanagan following a spike in COVID-19 cases. Henry said the mask mandate remains in place. 

"Right now we're seeing a lot of transmission of a highly transmissible virus," she said. 

"We have to take measures to protect everyone and that's why we're doing it in a local area like this." 

B.C. reported 464 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, more than half of them in the Interior region. There are six active outbreaks in long-term care homes, four of those are in the Interior. 

There have been no new deaths. 

Of those 12 and older in the province, 81.8 per cent have had their first shot of vaccine, while 68.9 per cent are fully vaccinated. 

The Delta variant makes up about 60 per cent of the COVID-19 cases in the province.

Officials, once again, urged people to get vaccinated, with Health Minister Adrian Dix noting that "all of the cases" in B.C.'s intensive care units are among the unvaccinated.

Dr. Sue Pollock, chief medical health officer of Interior region, said COVID-19 infections have almost tripled in the past week from about 300 cases to 1,200. 

There were 31 people in hospital and 10 in critical care, she said. 

Henry said COVID-19 cases are now spilling over into the health-care system, especially long-term homes, and "dozens" of acute care staff have been infected. 

"And that puts stress on our health-care system across both the central Okanagan and all of the Interior." 

There were six active outbreaks in long-term care homes in the province reported Friday, four of them in the Interior.

This spike in COVID-19 cases also comes at a time when the health system is seeing a strain from wildfire activity in the area, she noted. 

While a rise in COVID-19 numbers was expected when restrictions were lifted, Henry said this "rapid increase" needs to be stopped. 

"This is not where we want us to be obviously right now, and we know, however, that we can make a tremendous impact in slowing this virus down," she said. "We know what works."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2021.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

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