Too soon to lift B.C.'s COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings and events, officials say
Province-wide restrictions on gatherings and events are likely to be extended as COVID-19 transmission remains high across British Columbia, health officials said Tuesday.
Those restrictions prohibit organized indoor gatherings such as weddings and funeral receptions, and limit personal indoor gatherings to the hosts plus 10 guests, or one additional household.
But provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also suggested the government might relax other measures, if they are no longer deemed necessary to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.
"The restrictions on gatherings and events are likely to remain unchanged for now," Henry said at a news conference. "In parallel, we are looking at what we can safely resume now that all businesses have COVID safety plans."
Jeff Guignard, executive director of the BC Alliance of Beverage Licensees says nightclubs and bars have the necessary safety protocols in place and have proven in previous waves that they can operate safely.
“We just need to know if we’re going to be allowed to reopen,” said Guignard. “We have folks who are trying to make decisions. They have to recall staff and stock up on supplies, and they just don’t know yet whether they can spend the money, so it’s really frustrating.”
B.C.'s latest restrictions, which were introduced last month, forced the temporary closure of bars, nightclubs and gyms, and imposed 50 per cent capacity limits on movie theatres, arenas and other venues.
Officials initially said the measures would remain in place through Jan. 18, unless they need to be extended.
Transmission has continued to climb since then, though the province has lost the ability to accurately track COVID-19 cases because of limitations in testing capacity. While the province announced 2,106 new infections on Monday, an independent group of COVID-19 modellers has suggested the true number was likely closer to 12,500.
Henry acknowledged that many Omicron infections appear to be milder, particularly among people who are fully vaccinated, but noted the number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 has also started climbing rapidly in recent weeks.
"One of the things that is becoming very, very clear is that this strain of the virus is absolutely mostly mild in people who have the protection that vaccination offers," Henry said. "But if you are unvaccinated, you don't have that protection, and your personal risk has gone up dramatically in some communities."
The majority of hospital admissions, in particular those requiring intensive care, involve people who aren't protected by vaccination, Henry said.
The government hasn't provided a breakdown of ICU patients since Friday, at which point the unvaccinated made up 62 per cent of overall COVID-19 critical care admissions – and 88 per cent of those involving people under the age of 50.
Though many people have been expressing frustration and exhaustion at the state of the pandemic, Henry encouraged the public to continue following the government's COVID-19 measures while also conducting thoughtful personal risk assessments to determine how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
"We all feel like we're getting battered by wave after wave of this storm, but let's not forget that there is much that we do have control over – and there's a lot that we can do safely and happily," she said.
On Dec. 22, the provincial government announced funding from $1,000 to $10,000 for businesses ordered to temporarily close down through the COVID-19 Closure Relief Grant.
If the closure order is extended, Guignard says additional money must be made available, and suggests tax temporary relief for affected businesses.
“Like not collecting PST for a month. Giving (businesses) a PST rebate for that period," he said.
As of Tuesday, the application system for the COVID-19 Closure Relief Grant is not yet online, so businesses are still waiting for access to the funds.
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