B.C. is implementing a three-week “circuit breaker”-style lockdown, introducing sweeping new restrictions on indoor dining in restaurants, group fitness and worship services.
The province recorded 2,518 new cases of COVID-19 over the last three days, including a record high 936 on Saturday. Six more people have died.
“We have seen the start of exponential growth,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry at a Monday press conference. “Gathering indoors is what is the greatest risk to all of us right now.”
The province announced on Monday that all food and liquor-serving premises must pivot to takeout or delivery service. Indoor dining is suspended, though patios will remain open.
People dining on patios should do so with their immediate household or core bubble only.
Indoor, adult group fitness activities of any kind are paused. Gyms and fitness centres are restricted to individual or one-on-one activities.
A previous announcement allowing for limited indoor worship services has been suspended.
Public health guidance for schools has also been amended and now encourages students down to Grade 4 to wear masks while at school.
The Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort will also be closed.
First new restrictions in months
All new public health orders go into effect at midnight on March 30 and will be in place until April 19.
B.C. is tightening restrictions for the first time since November. Unlike other provinces, indoor dining in B.C. has remained open since May 2020.
But B.C.’s seven-day rolling average of new cases is now at 803 cases a day — the second highest number of the pandemic. B.C. recorded 329 new cases associated with variants of concern on Monday, bringing total variant cases in the province to 2,233. Currently, 413 of the variant cases are active.
WATCH: Premier Horgan says 20-39 year age cohort is not paying enough attention to health orders
Henry said she is concerned that variant cases are currently driving transmission in B.C., especially as they are likelier to lead to severe infection in young people, and the variant associated with Brazil, P.1., which is showing significant growth, is less amenable to vaccines.
“I was very hopeful, even as late as last week, that we could keep where we were. But the dramatic increase in the last five or so days prompted this,” said Henry.
Henry confirmed there is currently a cluster of P.1 variant cases, the strain first detected in Brazil, in Whistler, and said that during targeted workplace inspections in the resort town, the province found that staff were struggling to maintain public health restrictions between restaurant patrons.
“We have seen increased cases because of spring break travel — that has meant a rapid rise in cases,” said Henry.
“Despite testing and contact tracing, we are seeing a spike in the Whistler Blackcomb region. Unfortunately, our efforts there have not been enough.”
Watch | Dr. Bonnie Henry says orders are needed when spikes and surges become a sustained trend:
Henry reiterated that travel within the province should be limited to essential travel only, for work or medical purposes. She urged anyone who has travelled outside their health region who develops any symptoms to stay home and arrange to get tested immediately.
Premier John Horgan spoke directly to people aged 20 to 39, saying “do not blow this for the rest of us.”
“We have made such good progress together … and we have come a great distance but we cannot blow it now … We have weeks and weeks to go and we need to redouble our efforts to focus on individual responsibility for the greater good,” he said.
People in B.C. are still able gather in groups of 10 outdoors. Henry urged people to stick to the same group of 10 people.
“I am asking for your help for this next few weeks. If you are gathering outside, even if it starts to rain or snow … stay outside,” she said.
AstraZeneca vaccine on pause for younger age cohort
B.C. also announced on Monday that, like many provinces, it is suspending use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine for people under 55.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization also announced it was immediately pausing the use of AstraZeneca in people under the age of 55, following reports of rare blood clots in some immunized patients.
On March 18, the provincial government announced a priority group that includes teachers, child-care staff, grocery store employees and first responders would receive a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in April.
Henry said that the use of vaccine will be on pause until a risk assessment can be completed over the coming days.
“Right now, if you have received the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it is more than 20 days since you did, there is no risk,” she said, adding there have been fewer than 30 cases of blood clotting worldwide.
“This is a rare instance … but it is serious.”
Over the last three days, an average of 20,412 people were vaccinated in B.C. — a 24 per cent increase over last weekend. Around 15 per cent of eligible people in B.C. have received at least one shot.
Last week, teachers in Surrey began receiving early access to COVID-19 vaccinations because of the higher rate of coronavirus transmission in the district.
On Twitter, Surrey school district superintendent Jordan Tinney said staff getting immunized Monday were receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.