British Columbia

Is it too soon to ease social gathering restrictions in B.C.? Some health experts say yes

As B.C. heads into its first weekend with new health restrictions that allow outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people, some health experts say the fun could be short-lived. 

Provincial health officer says chance of spreading COVID-19 is lower outside

Groups of up to 10 people are now allowed to socialize outdoors in B.C., as long as members of different families keep their distance from each other. People are pictured at Sasamat Lake in Port Moody last July when COVID-19 cases were lower. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As B.C. heads into its first weekend with new health restrictions that allow outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people, some health experts say the fun could be short-lived. 

Sally Otto, a University of British Columbia professor and COVID-19 modeller, says although the province's daily number of cases is holding steady, the number of cases with the U.K. variant has doubled weekly for the past month. 

"Once that becomes the most dominant strain in B.C. we're going to have to constrain our activities," Otto said. 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the long-awaited change on Thursday. 

Henry said the limit of 10 people was not decided based on research or epidemiological modelling, but a matter of what is considered reasonable.

While distanced outdoor visits are considered safe, meeting indoors with people from another household is still banned. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

'A little bit more joy'

Clinical counsellor Jennifer Hollinshead says the change helps relieve demand for social interaction after months of no social gatherings allowed at all.

"I think a lot of people were so pent up about such strict rules that this feels like, 'OK, I can do something that feels good, that's safe, that's not against the rules,' " Hollinshead said. 

Premier John Horgan says he's confident about Dr. Henry's decision. 

"We still want to be vigilant," Horgan said. "But we can have a little bit more joy."

Henry advised people should stick to the same group of people, rather than meet with several different groups. Kids who meet should stick to their same school cohorts, she said. 

She said the riskiest settings are indoors and the chance of spreading the virus is lower outdoors.

Henry hinted that restrictions could lift further if case numbers decrease as vaccination efforts ramp up.

With files from Isabelle Raghem

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