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Targeted COVID-19 restrictions expanded to all of B.C.'s Interior

Vancouver -

B.C. is expanding restrictions initially put in place to slow the growth of COVID-19 cases in the Kelowna area to the entire Interior Health region.

Beginning at midnight Friday, masks will be mandatory in all indoor public spaces across the Interior, and there will soon be limits on both formal and informal gatherings, whether inside or outside.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the changes at a news conference Friday afternoon.

Henry began by thanking residents of the Central Okanagan local health area - where a mask mandate was reinstated in July and further restrictions were put in place on Aug. 6 - for getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

She said the province has been seeing a steady rise in vaccination rates in the region since the restrictions were implemented.

But there has also been a steady rise in cases, not only in the Central Okanagan - which includes the City of Kelowna and several surrounding communities - but around the Interior, Henry said.

"It has strained health resources in a number of communities across the Interior Health (region)," she said.

The provincial health officer said wildfires raging around the Interior have exacerbated the problem, with evacuation orders and alerts prompting people to leave their homes and - in some cases - take the coronavirus with them.

Expanding the restrictions across the whole health authority will help combat this phenomenon, Henry said.

"We understand this news will be disheartening for many in this area, who are not only living with the challenges of the pandemic, but also with the challenges of wildfires, heat and smoke," Henry said.

"These steps will allow us to contain transmission, and I think the positive news is we have seen a leveling off of the transmission in the Central Okanagan where these measures have been in place." 

Interior Health issued a news release Friday afternoon clarifying the new restrictions that will be implemented, as well as the dates when they will take effect.

The mask mandate will begin at midnight. Everyone age 12 and older will be required to wear a mask in indoor public spaces.

Also beginning at midnight are restrictions on fitness classes. High-intensity indoor group exercise will no longer be permitted, and low-intensity indoor group exercise will be allowed for a maximum of 10 people per class.

Outdoor group exercise will be allowed for classes of up to 50 people.

The other changes announced Friday will take effect at 8 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 23.

Those changes include limits on gatherings in vacation rentals, where only five guests or one additional household will be permitted.

Indoor personal gatherings at other locations will be limited to 10 guests or one other household.

Outdoor personal gatherings - such as birthday parties, backyard barbecues and block parties - are limited to no more than 50 people.

Organized indoor gatherings - such as weddings, funerals and seated events - are limited to 50 people, while organized outdoor gatherings are limited to 100 people. COVID-19 safety plans are required for all organized events, whether indoors or outdoors.  

Henry did not mention the closure of bars and nightclubs outside of the Central Okanagan region. Such venues were ordered to close during the last expansion of restrictions in that area. It does not appear that such closures will be expanded to the whole health authority when the latest changes take effect at midnight.

In its release, Interior Health said rules for "food and liquor distribution establishments" in the Central Okanagan remain in place. The health authority did not indicate that they were being expanded to other local health areas.

Because of the COVID-19 risk and the ongoing wildfire situation, health officials continue to recommend that people avoid travelling to the Interior for non-essential reasons.

 

 

 

Correction

This story has been updated to clarify what restrictions are being imposed and when they take effect.

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