Can I travel for Christmas? What about for a hockey practice? B.C.'s top doctor clarifies rules
An Air Canada flight takes off at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Friday, March 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
VANCOUVER -- As the second wave of COVID-19 crashes over British Columbia, many have had questions about why things are different now from earlier in the pandemic.
Some of those questions revolve around sports and travel, and the rules currently in place in the province.
Dr. Bonnie Henry addressed both topics separately, as well as travel for sports, during her daily briefing Wednesday, after announcing another dozen deaths and 834 cases of COVID-19 in B.C.
The provincial health officer's update also included a record number of hospitalizations and active cases.
"This virus continues to move, and move quickly, between us, and it takes lives… And we are continuing to see unchecked transmissions in many places despite our efforts of public health teams," Henry said.
"That is why during this second surge, the need to follow provincial health orders is so important. Those are there because we know that these are situations where this virus can spread very easily now. It's not about bad people and people doing the wrong things. It's the fact that we know this virus can spread, even in places where we thought it was safe with the guidelines we had in place just a few months ago."
'I cannot stop you (from) getting into your car'
On travel, Henry said she was asking all British Columbians to consider how important it is not to travel right now.
Exceptions can be made for essential travel, for work or medical care, but otherwise, no one should be travelling within B.C. or between provinces, she said.
"We need to stop, right now, to protect our communities and our families and our health-care workers. This is avoidable, and these are the measures that we need to take."
While not necessarily falling under the category of "essential" travel, Henry said, going home for the holidays is important for some.
But, she said, those people must follow the rules, and should be isolating at home – not going out into the community, attending parties or socializing in other ways.
Everyone is encouraged to stay local "more than ever," if possible, and to avoid public settings, whether indoors or outdoors.
It is not within Henry's powers to force people not to travel.
"I cannot stop you by an order (from) getting into your car or going on to a plane," she said.
"But I'm asking in the strongest of terms for us to stay put, to stay in our communities and to protect our communities."
'Dozens infected' from travel for sports
Henry said she knows many use recreation, including team sports, as a reason to leave their community or the province.
"It has been a challenge for us. We know that there are many people who want to travel, who are coming here from other provinces for recreation and sport, and we know that there are sports teams in B.C. that have travelled to other provinces despite the restrictions put in place," she said.
As a warning, she gave the story of an "old timers'" hockey team from the Interior that travelled to Alberta recently. She did not name the team or give further details, other than that the team has since come back.
"And now there are dozens of people infected and it has spread in the community," Henry said.
"Making an exception for yourself, for your team, for your recreational needs puts a crack in our wall, and we see that this virus can exploit that very easily this time of year."
And, according to the provincial restrictions currently in place, travel from and between other communities also includes those not too far away.
For example, a team from Abbotsford is not permitted to go to a training session in Chilliwack, a city a little over 30 kilometres away.
Regulations around sports and rec
Henry reiterated Wednesday that all events are prohibited, including those related to sports, as well as drive-in and drive-thru events, until further notice.
Games, competitions and practices can continue for now, but, Henry said, "I will remind everybody, though, that no matter where these activities are taking place, particularly sports, there's to be no travel and no spectators."
She said she knows how important it is to be able to get outside and move, and encourages everyone to do it every day, even if it's just for 10 minutes.
She said going to the park or playing games outside are OK, as long as physical distancing can be maintained.
And she said indoor activities, including team sports and group fitness classes, are much higher risk. That's why the rules have been updated.
Henry said things changed not because people weren't following the guidelines, but because those guidelines are no longer enough.
In particular, what she called high-intensity indoor group physical activity is "prohibited indefinitely," including hot yoga and spin classes.
Lower intensity options are "on pause" at least until restrictions are updated next week.
Included in the suspended activities are gymnastics, yoga, pilates, cheerleading, strength and conditioning, dance and martial arts.
New guidance is being developed, Henry said. Structured programs and sports for children and youth are also being examined.
Gyms can stay open as long as they have a COVID-19 safety plan, and it is strictly followed.
"I know these restrictions put an added burden on what is already a difficult time for all of us, and it seems never-ending as we're moving into December, but they are what is required right now," Henry said.