Travel and gatherings restricted on Lower Mainland, dangerous rise in virus cases cited

The province has imposed new restrictions on the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions after B.C. recorded 567 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours.

In a rare Saturday update, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the number of COVID-19 cases has risen dangerously and has forced orders that will, in effect, turn back the restart clock for the two health regions.

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New orders for Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions until Nov. 23 mean no social gatherings of any size other than immediate households, travel in and out of the Lower Mainland is limited to essential purposes only, and all travel for sports is suspended for two weeks.

Indoor group physical activities are suspended and workplaces must review all safety plans, undertake active screening of workers, encourage working from home and if they cannot comply with safety plans they may be forced to close for two weeks.

Henry said the restrictions are necessary to ensure essential services and activities remain open, accessible and operating safely.

“Right now, this is in jeopardy,” she said. “We must now step back from our restart activities. We need to take urgent and focused actions here in particular in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions to avoid serious consequences for all of us, not just in this region but around the province.”

Henry said by strictly limiting social interactions and being more vigilant, health officials hope to stem the tide of rising COVID-19 cases in the province.

Calling it another challenging day in B.C., Henry announced 567 new COVID cases Saturday, three of them on Vancouver Island, 122 in the Vancouver Coastal region and 411 in the Fraser Valley region.

Saturday marked the second time in two days that B.C. recorded more than 500 COVID cases; Henry announced 589 new cases on Friday.

It brings to 17,716 the total number of cases in B.C. There are now 104 people hospitalized with COVID-19, with 31 of them in either critical care or intensive care.

Henry said the orders were not imposed across the entire province because officials feel they will be able to manage case loads in other regions, where a rapid increase in cases is not being seen, with existing safety guidelines and orders.

But Henry warned that those other regions can not be complacent.

“It does not mean we are out of the woods, and we can back off in other areas of the province,” she said, adding it means they have to “hold the fort.”

The new orders allow funerals and weddings to proceed, though they can only include immediate family and no receptions can be held; people are strongly advised not to travel to, from or through the Lower Mainland unless essential; indoor group fitness activities like yoga and spin classes are suspended and can only resume after safety plans have been approved by the health regions; indoor sports games where physical distancing cannot be maintained are suspended.

Henry also ordered limousine businesses and party buses to suspend operations in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions the next two weeks. “This is a chance to stop the transmission, to have a break in that rising transmission rate we are seeing, and we need to focus our attention on that now. Provincial health orders are always a “last resort” but are now needed in both the affected regions, she said.

There are 3,741 active cases of COVID-19 in the province, 7,887 people who are under active public health monitoring as a result of identified exposure to known cases; 13,035 people who tested positive have recovered.

There have also been two more deaths related to COVID-19 for a total of 275 deaths in B.C. during the pandemic.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

Text of provincial health officer's order on limiting social interactions, Nov. 7, 2020

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