Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is escalating and extending COVID-19 restrictions currently limiting social interaction, public gatherings and certain business activity across Metro Vancouver.
The orders, which were set to expire Nov. 23, will now be extended to midnight, Dec. 7 — and the entire province is now ordered to follow suit.
“We really need to take action now across the province,” Henry said Thursday.
In an escalation of the orders, all community-based social gatherings or events are now suspended, including those with less than 50 people in controlled settings for two weeks. That includes places of worship, somewhere Henry said has seen a surge in transmission in recent weeks.
Time limited events like baptisms, weddings and funerals, however, can proceed but with no associated reception or celebrations and a max 10 people at the service. Alcoholic Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, social service visits, childcare settings, school and after school programs are not affected by the new order.
“It is OK to go for a walk outside with a friend. It is OK to make sure the grandparents pick up the kids at school or that you’re able to go to fix the furnace in your mother’s house… it’s OK to have your cleaner come into your house,” Henry said.
“Those are not social gatherings and social events.”
All British Columbians are now strongly urged to curtail any travel outside of their communities unless it’s essential, and no social gatherings are to take place outside of one’s immediate household.
Henry announced another 538 cases Thursday, a slight dip after two straight days of record-breaking new caseloads.
Many of the new cases in recent weeks are do to spillover into workplaces, said Henry.
“Dealerships, grocery stores, banks, you name it,” she said.
Most of the transmissions have been between staff and not to customers, with clusters ranging from one or two cases up to 60.
In a departure from past policy, Henry has leveraged the Emergency Act to mandate all staff and customers wear masks at indoor retail outlets.
The measure includes all corridors, elevators and common areas; however, it does not apply to food service areas or when someone is eating or drinking.
Henry's office has formed rapid response teams to visit high-risk businesses flouting health and safety measures. Those high-risk businesses will be required to create an updated health and safety plan; other businesses are expected to maintain previous plans.
Businesses which are not complying will be fined or closed if they are found to be in breach of the orders in what Health Minister Adrian Dix described as a significant change in approach emphasizing enforcement.
Over 20,000 inspections of businesses have occurred over the last few months, but Henry said there’s no way inspectors can reach every business.
High-risk businesses and recreation centres that run hot yoga and spin classes are to suspend activity across the province. Bars are also under increased scrutiny, though no additional orders have been issued to curtail their operation.
Henry has also created a team to manage school outbreaks in the Lower Mainland. When pressed on the possibility of mandating an early start to the school holiday break, Henry said her office is still considering the option.
Outside of school-related sports programs, sports organization are to maintain their Phase 3 restart plan but with no spectators for indoor or outdoor sports and no travel outside the community for the next month.
Employers are asked to suspend any plans to return workers to the office.
Out of province visitors are asked to suspend travel for the next month; those who choose to come are expected to follow the orders or face enforcement.
Henry said her office is monitoring the transmission of the virus every day, and that once the next incubation period comes to an end “we may need to extend that.”
"We'll be watching the spillover," she said. "Where people are getting infected and where they're going."
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