British Columbia

Health officials closing nightclubs and bars, placing limits on gatherings in B.C.'s Central Okanagan

Officials in B.C. reinstated a number of public health orders for the Central Okanagan area on Friday, shutting nightclubs, limiting restaurant dining and restricting the size of social gatherings until further notice as the delta variant drives the rapid spread of COVID-19.

People with plans to travel to the area this weekend should reschedule or cancel, PHO says

A woman wearing a mask walks down Bernard Avenue in downtown Kelowna, B.C., on Aug. 6, the day when B.C. health officials announced further COVID-19 restrictions on Central Okanagan. (Winston Szeto/CBC)

Officials in B.C. reinstated a number of public health orders for the Central Okanagan area on Friday, shutting nightclubs, limiting restaurant dining and restricting the size of social gatherings until further notice as the delta variant drives the rapid spread of COVID-19.

Nightclubs and bars will be closed as of Friday, while liquor cut-off at restaurants will be 10 p.m. PT. Limits on the number of people allowed to gather together apply both indoors and outdoors as of Monday.

People who had plans to travel to the Central Okanagan should try to cancel or reschedule, officials said. Anyone who is not vaccinated, in particular, should avoid the area.

"This is not where we want us to be obviously right now, and we know, however, that we can make a tremendous impact in slowing this virus down,'' said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry during a news conference on Friday.

The latest surge of cases in B.C. is concentrated in the Interior Health region, with the "vast majority" in the Central Okanagan. The area includes Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country and Rutland. 

Gatherings in the Central Okanagan will be limited as follows, starting Monday:

  • Outdoor gatherings, like birthday parties or backyard BBQs — maximum 50 people.
  • Indoor personal gatherings — maximum five people or one additional household.
  • Indoor/outdoor organized and seated gatherings, such as weddings — maximum 50 people. 
  • Vacation rentals, like houseboats or Airbnbs: Maximum of five guests in addition to occupants.

mask mandate imposed last week in an attempt to slow the spread remains in effect. High intensity indoor fitness classes are cancelled, but low intensity workouts at fitness centres are still permitted.

Henry acknowledged some large events, like weddings, will already be booked for the weekend before restrictions on gatherings come back into effect on Monday. She said hosts need to take precautions seriously if they choose to go ahead over the next three days.

"For events planned this weekend, we know that we can't change those immediately. What we need you to do is ensure you have safety plans in place," Henry said.

"As much as possible, unimmunized people should not attend these events, whether it's a wedding or a birthday party or a formal organized event. People should wear masks, they should stay seated and follow physical distancing rules."

Henry said hosts need to keep an accurate list of everybody who attends their event for contact tracing purposes.

B.C.'s caseload concentrated in strained Interior

Nearly 60 per cent of the new cases reported for the entire province on Friday were in the Interior Health region.

Officials said the outbreak in the Central Okanagan has tripled from around 300 cases to roughly 1,200 since last week. The highly transmissible delta variant accounts for 80 per cent of cases.

Most patients are younger people between the ages of 20 and 40 who aren't vaccinated or who have only had one shot.

"Most of the transmission events we are seeing are through social gatherings, whether that's in vacation rental, people coming together and having parties, in bars and nightclubs that we've seen,'' said Henry.

Anyone who has travelled to the area recently is asked to monitor for symptoms.

"We know that now there has been transmission from people who have travelled to the Central Okanagan and moved back to different areas of the province," said Henry.

The outbreak has also spilled over into the health-care system at a time when resources are already strained due to aggressive wildfires, smoky skies and persistent heat in the region. "Dozens" of health-care workers in acute care have been infected, according to officials, and there are two new outbreaks in long-term care.

"That puts stress on our health-care system across both the Central Okanagan and all of the Interior as we know Kelowna General [Hospital], for example, supports all of the Interior Health regions," Henry said.

People are seen at Kelowna City Park near Okanagan Lake on Friday. Eighty per cent of COVID-19 cases in the area are being driven by the highly transmissible delta variant, officials said. (Winston Szeto/CBC)

The restrictions announced Friday apply to everybody in the Central Okanagan, vaccinated and unvaccinated.

"Right now, when we're seeing a lot of transmission of a highly transmissible virus, we have to take measures to protect everyone," said Henry.

Around 95 per cent of COVID-19 patients in hospital in B.C. as of Friday had not been vaccinated or had received only one dose. None of the patients in intensive care were vaccinated, Health Minister Adrian Dix said.

British Columbians aged 12 and over who have not yet been immunized can register in three ways:

People can also be immunized at walk-in clinics throughout the province.

With files from The Canadian Press

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