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Don't come to Kelowna unless you're vaccinated, mayor says amid COVID-19 outbreak

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As the mayor of a destination city during peak tourist season, Colin Basran is sharing a message he thought he'd never have to: Stay away from Kelowna.

"For the first time ever, I'm telling people to stay away from our city if they aren't vaccinated," Basran said Thursday.

That's also the message in surrounding cities as the Central Okanagan, a tourist destination that normally sees visitors from around the province and other parts of Canada, deals with a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said the same: People who aren't fully vaccinated should not be travelling to Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland or Lake Country.

In a statement, Tourism Kelowna said it supported the move. For those planning travel to the region, president Lisanne Ballantyne recommended calling ahead and getting official information. "We can still safely enjoy summer if we do the right thing, remain patient, and be kind to each other," the statement said.

Interior Health said many of the cases are linked to parties and to the service industry, where staff often work at multiple businesses. As of July 29, the health authority said about a dozen wineries, restaurants and bars had voluntarily closed. No business was forced to close.

The biggest change in the Central Okanagan is the return of a mask mandate requiring everyone 12 and older to cover up in indoor public spaces. Outside, masks are recommended.

Health official noted extreme heat and poor air quality can force people indoors, and when a large number of people aren't fully vaccinated, it's a breeding ground for the highly contagious Delta variant. Outbreak protocols will remain in place until transmission rates go down and immunizations go up.

Ninety seven per cent of recent cases were in those not fully vaccinated.

That's why the Kelowna mayor has another message for those who have yet to seek out shots.

"Stop putting your health, other people's health and people's ability to make a living in jeopardy," Basran said. "Because that's what you're doing."

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