B.C. shuts down bars, prepares to cancel surgeries as Omicron drives up case counts

December 21, 2021
B.C. shuts down bars, prepares to cancel surgeries as Omicron drives up case counts
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THE LATEST:

  • More health restrictions are coming into effect in B.C., shutting bars and banning gatherings like weddings.
  • The province is expanding its rapid testing program, though the changes will take at least two weeks.
  • Officials are opening more vaccination centres, including reopening the Vancouver Convention Centre, to speed up booster shots.
  • B.C. will be cancelling scheduled surgeries as of Jan. 4.

Officials have announced more public health restrictions in B.C., including a shutdown of bars and nightclubs, as well as plans to cancel scheduled surgeries as the Omicron variant spreads across the province.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry revealed the latest round of public health orders on Tuesday.

The new measures take effect Wednesday and include:

  • No indoor organized gatherings of any size, including weddings, receptions and parties.
  • Bars and nightclubs closed.
  • Maximum of six people per table at a restaurant, pub or cafe.
  • Gyms, fitness centres and dance studios must be shut down. 
  • Seated events like concerts, sports games, movie theatres are down to 50 per cent capacity.

The rules will be in place until Jan. 18.

The new restrictions are in addition to the existing orders which came into effect Monday. Personal gatherings are still limited to your household plus 10 guests or one additional household if it’s larger than 10 guests. Everyone in the house must be vaccinated.

The new rules do not include restrictions around interprovincial travel ahead of Christmas. The province on Tuesday emphasized the need to balance families’ mental health with the goal of reducing transmission.

“I know at this time of year, we need to be with our family … to support them, to provide support, to get support,” Henry said. “Pick your group, make it as small as possible and stick with them this holiday season.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Henry were scheduled to speak at 1:30 p.m. PT.

CBC News is livestreaming the news conference.

New orders come after B.C. watched Ontario, Quebec

The province said the new orders were made after B.C. examined data over the weekend from other jurisdictions like Quebec, Ontario and the U.K. for signs of what could happen locally. Those places are several weeks ahead of B.C. in their pandemics and dealing with even higher case counts. 

“We know this is a disappointing and discouraging thing to hear at this point in time. We’ve done the right thing over and over,” Henry said.

“This virus doesn’t recognize that … It has changed and so must we.”

The number of cases in B.C. has risen more than 126 per cent in a week, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. 

Officials said there were 2,550 new cases of COVID-19 between Friday and Sunday. The new cases brought the total number of active cases to 5,435.

Epidemiologists have warned that even if Omicron is eventually shown to cause milder sickness, its rapid spread could still send an unmanageable number of people to exhausted hospitals.

Rapid test strategy

B.C. is also expanding its rapid test strategy. 

In the next month, more rapid tests will be provided for symptomatic people at testing centres, at long-term care facilities and for vulnerable communities and businesses. Health-care workers in acute care will also have access.

The program will be expanded in later January to include K-12 schools and post-secondary institutions. There are no current plans to cancel in-person classes for either group.

Cars are pictured lined up at a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing clinic in Surrey, B.C., on Dec. 21, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Testing centres in B.C. have been stretched over the last week, since people without access to rapid testing have no other option to confirm whether they are positive or not ahead of the holidays.

The strategy Tuesday did not hint at any plans to make free rapid tests widely available to the public as they are in other provinces.

In total, the province expects 700,000 rapid tests to be delivered in the next two weeks. Officials are hoping to receive another 11 million from the federal government in January.

Booster shot timeline

Officials are accelerating the booster shot program in B.C. Evidence shows two vaccine doses are not enough to stop an Omicron infection — though the vaccines still substantially reduce the risk of hospitalization and serious illness. 

While B.C.’s age-based and critically vulnerable strategy will continue, the province is expanding vaccination capacity by using pharmacies and opening more local clinics.

A health-care worker is pictured at a Fraser Health COVID-19 immunization and testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Dec. 13, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The new targeted completion date for the booster program is now the end of March instead of May.

All of the five health authorities are working to open vaccination clinics, including reopening the Vancouver Convention Centre as well as other mass sites in the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island.

Cancelled surgeries

Scheduled surgeries in B.C. are being postponed starting Jan. 4 to “manage pressures on hospital capacity,” the province said. Urgent or emergency surgeries will still go ahead.

Officials expect roughly 3,000 surgeries will be cancelled per week. The cancellations mean key staff can be redeployed elsewhere, including vaccination clinics to help with boosters and shots for children five to 11.

Surgery rescheduling will be determined at a later date in January. 



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