COVID-19: B.C. introduces ‘circuit-breaker’ restrictions in Northern Health

The restrictions take effect Oct. 15 and will be in place until Nov. 19

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Surging rates of COVID-19 infections in Northern B.C. have led to new “circuit-breaker” restrictions in most of the region, including limits on personal gatherings, suspension of in-person worship services and the closures of bars and nightclubs.

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The new restrictions, announced Thursday by the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Health Minister Adrian Dix, were meant in part to reduce the strain on the region’s health care system, which is being swamped with critically-ill COVID-19 patients, many of them in their 20s to 40s.

“We do not take these actions lightly,” said Henry. “We are intending for this circuit breaker to save lives, to lower the rates of transmission, to allow our hospitalizations to stabilize, and enable all of us to come back safely to celebrate the upcoming holiday season.”

The restrictions take effect Oct. 15 and will be in place until Nov. 19. P ersonal gatherings are restricted to only fully vaccinated people. Indoor gatherings will be capped at five people and outdoor gatherings at 25.

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Attendees of organized events such as weddings and parties will be required to be fully vaccinated and wear masks. The events will be limited to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

The restriction on outdoor organized events, however, does not apply to Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Henry said she is working with Legions in B.C. and Yukon and the recommendation, similar to last year’s ceremonies, will be to keep Remembrance Day ceremonies small and invite only immunized people to attend in person.

The public health orders also suspend in-person worship services because “with the amount of transmission we are seeing in the North, it is no longer safe for us to have a mixing of people who are unvaccinated in these worship settings,” said Henry.

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Churches and other places of worship will be limited to virtual services only, although there can be “single-person services” where people can go for “quiet reflection,” she said.

Bars and nightclubs will have to shut down. Restaurants which serve liquor will have to stop serving alcoholic beverages by 10 p.m.

The restrictions cover the entire Northern Health region, except the local health areas west of Kitwanga, including Terrace, Kitimat, Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert, Stikine, and the Nisga’a areas — areas where the virus has not been able to spread because of high rates of vaccination, said Henry.

Cases in Northern Health started to climb in August. On a per capita basis, its seven-day moving average of new infections is nearly four times the provincial rate, according to data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, while its hospitalization rate is the highest out of all the health regions.

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On Thursday, Dix said 58 critically ill patients — including 45 who were COVID-19 positive — had to flown out of the Northern Health region to hospitals in Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island to free up more beds in the North.

“It’s a critical situation,” said Dix, who also noted that out of those 45 with COVID-19, only one was fully vaccinated.

Henry said the Delta variant is much more transmissible and spreads even with a small amount of exposure. It is also causing more severe illness in younger people, particularly those in their 20s to 40s, who are ending up in critical care.

On Thursday, B.C. reported 580 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the number of active cases to 5,348.

Out of the new infections, 22 per cent, or 129 cases, were in Northern Health. Fraser Health had 246; Vancouver Coastal Health, 53; Interior Health, 104; and Island Health, 48. In the last 24-hour reporting period, nine people have died of COVID-19. The provincial death toll now stands at 2,042.


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