British Columbia

Christmas isn't cancelled, but COVID-19 means 'it'll look different,' Dr. Bonnie Henry says

As the December holidays approach, B.C. health officials say they're watching the data on COVID-19's spread to determine how celebrations might look this year.

No vaccine means no office parties, no big family gatherings, and chance of extended winter break in new year

Dr. Bonnie Henry joked Thursday that Santa Claus is probably immune from COVID-19. (CBC)

As the December holidays approach, B.C. health officials say they're watching the data on COVID-19's spread to determine how celebrations might look this year.

But Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said no one should expect to spend the holidays in the typical way. That means office parties and big family gatherings are out of the question.

"There's hope. We will have Christmas. It'll look different," Henry said Thursday. "There's not going to be a vaccine here that's going to save the day by Christmas. There's no one thing that we can do that's going to make this all go away."

B.C. continues to see out-of-control spread of the novel coronavirus as the second wave of the pandemic pushes the active caseload and hospitalization rates to record levels. As of Thursday, there were 155 people in hospital with COVID-19 out of 5,793 active cases, and modelling suggests the number of new daily cases is doubling every 13 days.

Henry pointed out that many British Columbians will celebrate Diwali this weekend, at a time when residents of the Lower Mainland are subject to strict temporary restrictions that prohibit gatherings with anyone who doesn't live in the same household.

"There are many small things that we can do that will get us through this," she said. "We can find ways to do this safely that will protect the elders in our family. Yes, we can see them, but we can't be together in the same way."

Christmas is still more than a month away, and how people recognize the holiday will depend on how the disease is spreading in B.C. communities.

"I think Santa probably has immunity and we'll be looking at how we can facilitate him," Henry joked. "He'll be washing his hands a lot, and he probably won't be eating cookies and milk in every house this year, but we'll find ways of making it work."

She said she's not ruling out anything when it comes to what might be necessary to slow the virus's second wave. That includes the possibility of extending winter break for students if the circumstances warrant it.

"We're really trying to use the data we have about where transmission is and how transmission is happening to help us target what we need to do over the next few months until we get to the point where we know immunization is on the horizon," Henry said.

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