Amid surging COVID-19 cases in B.C.’s Central Okanagan, health officials are ratcheting up pandemic restrictions in the area.
Speaking at a hastily organized briefing, Health Minister Adrian Dix said more than 56 per cent of active cases in B.C. were in the Interior Health region, most of them in the Central Okanagan.
Nearly half of all ICU cases, 46 per cent, were also in the Interior Health region, he said.
“It continues to be a significant situation,” Dix said. Officials declared an outbreak in the Central Okanagan last week and implemented a suite of restrictions, including mandatory masks in indoor public places.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said those measures are now being significantly increased.
Effective Friday, patrons at restaurants will be limited to groups of six or fewer, and liquor service will be suspended at 10 p.m.
Nightclubs and bars will be closed unless they serve food.
High-intensity fitness gyms are also being temporarily closed, while low intensity workouts will be permitted with group size limits.
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Vacation rentals and houseboats will be limited to occupants, plus five visitors.
Effective on Monday, the province is capping indoor personal gatherings at five people or one other household, while indoor and outdoor events will be capped at 50 people, with a COVID-19 safety plan.
Henry urged any event organizers to keep a contact tracing list of all attendees.
People with plans to visit the Central Okanagan are being “strongly urged” to reschedule them.
The restrictions apply to Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country and parts of the Central Okanagan Regional District and First Nations communities within the area.
Henry said most of the transmission in the Interior was being driven by social gatherings, and that about 80 per cent of the cases were the highly-transmissible Delta variant.
“We have been watching this outbreak very carefully,” said Henry. “And despite the measures that were announced a week ago, on July 28, we’re still seeing cases growing — mostly among unvaccinated people or those who have received only a single dose of vaccine.”
Henry added that “unfortunately, we’re seeing spillover into our health-care settings.”
She said there are two outbreaks in long-term care and that “we’re seeing dozens of members in acute-care settings that have been infected. That puts stress on our health-care system.”
Dr. Sue Pollock, interim chief medical health officer for the Interior Health Authority, urged people to get vaccinated.
“We’re calling on all our young adults living in our communities across the Central Okanagan, especially those who work in jobs where you interact with the public, we’re asking you please to come out and get your vaccine,” she said.
“It’s the most effective way to bring the outbreak in the Central Okanagan under control.”
Interior Health, where vaccination rates in a number of local health areas lag the provincial average, has consistently accounted for more than half of B.C.’s daily new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
More to come…