B.C.’s provincial health officer extended the ban on social gatherings for another month on Monday, curtailing large holiday gatherings and New Year’s parties.
Residents must continue to only socialize with people in their household until midnight Jan. 8, Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday, as the province recorded 35 more deaths related to COVID-19 and 2,020 new cases over a three-day period.
People who live alone can continue to see one or two people.
The extension also bans outdoor gatherings, meaning groups can’t meet in backyards or parks. Walks with one person are still allowed.
All events are also banned until that time, although Henry has created a new exemption for drive-in and drive-through events, allowing toy drives, Christmas light shows and drive-in movies for a maximum of 50 vehicles.
Other restrictions will continue indefinitely, including a ban on in-person faith services, high-intensity group fitness classes and adult team sports.
The province is still asking people to avoid all non-essential travel, including travel between health regions and into and out of the province.
Henry said the restrictions put in place earlier this month are starting to work, but the province can’t afford a rebound of cases and a resulting surge in hospitalizations.
“We are not yet through this storm and we can not let up now,” she said.
There was also some hope: Henry said B.C. expects to receive a “small amount” of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine next week.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday morning that up to 249,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be available in Canada before the end of the year — shots primarily set aside for long-term care home residents and the people working there.
Henry said she intends to provide a more detailed vaccine roll-out later this week, alongside Health Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Ross Brown, who is leading the province’s vaccination efforts.
The latest reporting period for new cases announced Monday spanned three days and included: 647 cases between Friday and Saturday, 726 cases between Saturday and Sunday, and 647 cases between Sunday and Monday.
The province has 9,380 active cases. A total of 359 people are in hospital, with 77 people in intensive care.
The death toll stands at 527.
Henry reported six new outbreaks and five that are declared over. Outbreaks persist at 57 long-term care homes and eight acute-care facilities.
‘You must say no to the party’
B.C.’s announcement crystallized the fears of many that this year’s holidays will look very different from previous ones.
Travel plans and family gatherings have been up in the air for weeks as residents awaited word from the province. On Monday, Henry’s directive was clear.
“If you’re used to having large dinners with multiple family members, you need to do it remotely,” she said.
Dr. Bonnie Henry says it’s especially important to follow the rules right now because progress is starting to be made:
Henry added her orders will make it OK for people to turn down invites.
“You can say no to travelling. You can say no to having gatherings with people outside your household.”
The province recommends that people hold virtual parties and religious services, and unwrap gifts over video-conferencing.
Dix acknowledged this December will be a difficult holiday.
“That doesn’t mean that we won’t be able to celebrate,” he said. “We’ll just have to create new and special memories and build new traditions.”
Henry said the idea of closing schools early for the holidays was also discussed, but it was decided the downside for children would be greater than the health risk.
The winter break will be held as usual between Dec. 21 and Jan. 1.
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