Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 now permitted, as Island Health reports 41 new cases

Outdoor gatherings of up 10 people are now allowed, but indoor gatherings remain off-limits, the province’s top doctor said Thursday.

“We can spend time with a maximum of 10 people, the same people, outside, but smaller continues to be better,” said ­provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “And if you are going to see others, it has to be outside.”

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While daily case counts remain high, Henry said, ­transmission of viruses decreases in the spring and it’s important given the length of restrictions and their impact — especially on young people — to create space for safe connections, which is possible outdoors in small groups.

Ten people — or about “two families’ worth” — is not a ­scientific number, but an ­educated guess on the ­number of people who can gather ­outdoors safely for a picnic or barbecue while physically ­distancing, she said.

Henry said children can have a play date with their friends over the March break, as long as it’s with the same group of friends. “And if they’re in school, the group of friends that they’re in a cohort with at school.” Indoor sleepovers are not permitted.

She said it is also OK to meet friends outside for a coffee, a chat or a picnic, as long as ­people maintain physical distancing and keep the activities outdoors.

Restrictions for bars, ­restaurants and pubs remain in effect, with special rules for St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, when liquor sales must cease at 8 p.m., with the prohibition continuing until 9 the next morning.

Similar rules for New Year’s Eve drew backlash from establishments that complained of inadequate notice.

As for travel, Henry urged people to stay local and explore their own regions, preferably on day trips.

“I do think over March break if you are a family and you’re going to your cabin, and you’re self-contained, then that’s OK,” said Henry. “But we really need to stick to our household.”

Henry asked people not to visit communities dealing with clusters and outbreaks.

The province reported 569 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, including 41 people who tested positive in the Island Health region.

There are now nine outbreaks in long-term care, assisted ­living and independent living in the province, and eight outbreaks in acute-care settings.

Three new deaths were announced Thursday, for a total of 1,397 in B.C.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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