11 new COVID-19 cases on Island; premier says 4,000 people to get vaccine by end of next week

About 4,000 high-risk people in B.C. will be immunized against COVID-19 by the end of next week, the premier says.

Premier John Horgan shared the information on Twitter on Tuesday. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is set to provide details of the vaccine rollout plan today.

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British Columbia has recorded 566 new cases of COVID-19, which the provincial health officer and health minister say is the “start of encouraging trends” in the progression of the virus.

However, Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix say the number of new cases and hospitalizations due to serious illness are still high, requiring health orders and restrictions to stay in place.

Island Health on Tuesday reported 11 new confirmed cases of the virus and another school exposure, this one at Salt Spring Centre School on Dec. 3.

Across B.C., 352 people with the illness are being treated in hospital, with 74 of them in intensive care. There are nine people in hospital in the Island Health region, including four in intensive care.

Sixteen more people have died, for a total of 543 fatalities in the province.

“Let’s make the coming weeks our ‘winter break’ by breaking the chain of transmission in our province. We can still be festive and enjoy the season, but let’s ensure it is only with our immediate household or, if you live on your own, with one or two close contacts,” Henry and Dix say in a joint statement.

The province also formally extended its provincial state of emergency until Dec. 22, allowing health and emergency management officials to continue to use extraordinary powers under the Emergency Program Act to support B.C.’s COVID-19 pandemic response.

Public Safety Minster Mike Farnworth said that while most people continue to follow provincial orders, the government will not hesitate to take further action against those who put the lives of others at risk.

“The orders are in place to keep people safe, and we will use those legal tools when necessary to ensure public safety,” he said in a news release.

The ministry said 36 tickets for $2,300 have been issued to owners or organizers contravening Henry’s order on gatherings and events. It says 16 tickets for that amount have been handed out to those in violation of an order pertaining to premises serving food and alcohol.

Another 142 people have received tickets for $230 fines for refusing to comply with directions from police officers.

On Salt Spring Island, RCMP said business owners have been subjected to “ridicule and abuse” for asking customers to wear face coverings.

Police said people who don’t want to wear face coverings can choose not to enter local stores, although they encourage everyone to respect provincial health orders and put one on.

“Please respect our local retailers as they try to remain open during these difficult times and respect the rule of law,” said Sgt. Clive Seabrook, detachment commander. “They are doing so to provide services to all of us and employ local people in a number of local industries amidst this pandemic.”

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