COVID-19: 5 things to know about B.C.’s new restrictions ahead of the holiday season

The B.C. government announced a slew of new measures in a bid to curb rising cases due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

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If you’re feeling a sense of déjà vu over B.C.’s new restrictions, you’re not alone.

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The province has implemented new COVID-19 restrictions — including limits on indoor gatherings and prohibitions of organized New Year’s Eve parties — amid a surge in infections and uncertainty due to the Omicron variant of concern.

The new rules come into effect on Monday, Dec. 20, and remain in place until Jan. 31.

Here are some things you need to know about the new measures ahead of the holiday season:

Q: How are Christmas parties and church services affected?

Christmas dinners and gatherings are a go, but keep them small, said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who recommended people assess their situation based on their risks.

Indoor personal gatherings are limited to one household plus 10 guests or one other household — so long as everyone aged 12 and older is vaccinated. This includes gatherings in rental and vacation properties, including resorts.

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People who are unvaccinated are advised to stay home and not attend indoor social gatherings.

Christmas shopping and Boxing Day sales are slated to go ahead as normal, although Henry urged retail stores to have COVID-19 safety plans in place.

There are no changes to rules for churches and other faith gatherings. In-person faith services can operate at full capacity if organizers require proof of vaccination, or at half capacity if not everyone attending the services is vaccinated.

Q: What about New Year’s Eve parties?

Health officials have nixed all organized New Year’s Eve parties, regardless of size, warning that these celebrations tend to be “super spreader” events.

Canadian rocker Bryan Adams’s New Year’s Eve gig at Rogers Arena , billed as the city’s “largest New Year’s Eve celebration in decades,” was among the first events to get cancelled following the new measures, which also includes capacity limits.

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Seated-only events, such as New Year’s Eve dinners at restaurants, can go ahead. Restaurants, pubs and bars are not facing new restrictions on operating hours or liquor restrictions, although patrons will now be required to stay seated at their tables and not mix and mingle with people seated at different tables.

Q: What about events like theatres, concerts and sports events?

All indoor organized events, regardless of size, will require attendees to show proof of vaccination with the B.C. Vaccine Pass. Currently, the pass is required for events with more than 50 people. This order also applies to ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.

Organizers are also urged to step up scanning of QR codes to ensure the vaccination pass presented is valid.

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Large venues that can hold 1,000 or more people will now have to limit capacity to 50 per cent to allow for social distancing and increased ventilation.

All sports tournaments and related travel are temporarily suspended for all ages.

Q: What about holiday travel?

The province did not issue any ban or advisory against non-essential travel within B.C., although the federal government had already advised Canadians against international travel during this holiday season.

Q: Why are these restrictions necessary?

Health officials said B.C. is seeing a large increase in COVID-19 cases, which will inevitably result in more cases of people with severe illness requiring hospitalization.

While Delta remains the dominant strain, Omicron cases are rapidly rising, said Henry, adding B.C. expects to see a trajectory similar to other provinces such as Ontario, where Omicron has overtaken Delta, and Nova Scotia and Quebec, which have recorded their highest case counts to date.

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“We can’t stop these cases from happening,” said Henry. “This virus is in our community and it is being transmitted.

“What we need to do is bend the curve down and flatten it out so we don’t have a surge in our hospitals again.”

The surge in new cases has been more dramatic in densely populated regions such as Vancouver Coastal Health, and has been driven largely by people in their 20s and 30s getting infected at parties and informal social gatherings, Henry said.

As of Friday, B.C. has 302 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, up from 135 the day before. The majority of people who tested positive for Omicron has been vaccinated. None of the cases have required hospitalization.

chchan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/cherylchan


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