British Columbia is imposing the most stringent COVID-19 restrictions the province has seen since the start of the pandemic in a bid to tackle the record number of cases attributable to more transmissible coronavirus variants.
For three weeks starting Tuesday, food service in bars and restaurants, indoor group fitness activities for adults, and worship services – which just days ago were allowed to reopen to limited capacity – are all prohibited, provincial health officer Bonnie Henry said on Monday.
The Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort, which has seen clusters of cases, especially among staff who live and socialize nearby, is also ordered to close.
Workers are “strongly encouraged” to work from home when possible, and public health guidelines for schools have been updated to “support and encourage” students in grades 4 and up to wear masks.
The province recorded 2,518 new cases over the weekend, which included a new daily record of 936 Friday-Saturday cases, and 329 new cases involving worrying variants.
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Dr Henry acknowledged that the variants are behind the increase. Of 2,233 confirmed variant cases, 1,915 are the most commonly associated B.1.1.7 variant in the UK, she said. But confirmed cases of the commonly associated P.1 variant in Brazil rose to 270 on Monday, from 13 on March 9. There are currently 413 confirmed active variant cases in British Columbia
The laboratory at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, which analyzes samples from most of the Vancouver Coastal Health area, now detects variant P.1 more frequently than others. Emerging research has linked it to increased transmissibility and reinfection.
Dr Henry said an initial cluster of P.1 cases in the Vancouver Coastal Health area earlier this month was supposed to be contained, but there are now ‘concern’ clusters within, as well. than in Whistler.
“This is one of the reasons we are putting these restrictions indoors right now,” she said. “The increased transmissibility of these variants means that any breach of our indoor protective measures makes it very risky.”
Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said he was “clearly disappointed” with the decision, but it is clear that something had to be done to address the growing number of cases.
Restaurants in British Columbia will still be able to offer take-out, delivery and patio-seated service, but Tostenson estimated that would translate into a loss of about 60% of business.
“It’s going to be a tough three weeks and I think for some it could be the last three weeks,” Tostenson said. “If this lasts beyond three weeks, it will be very difficult for many small restaurants to even consider staying open.”
Shaun Layton, owner of Como Taparia in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, said he would be closing the restaurant indefinitely.
“What the BC government is doing, for me, is a band-aid approach. And it looks good on paper. But I don’t think they understand what it means for real businesses, ”Layton said.
He said his restaurant, which seats three tables outside, can’t compete with the big chains with a lot more space.
“What does the patio do for small restaurants?” he does not say anything. It’s embarassing. “
Michelle Travis, spokesperson for Unite Here Local 40, which represents B.C. hotel workers, said most of the workers represented by the union have not been called back to work due to current restrictions.
“For the small number of food and beverage workers who are returning, the latest restrictions are another setback to stability for struggling hospitality workers,” she said.
Derrick Hamre, senior pastor at the Christian Life Assembly in Langley, B.C., also said he was disappointed with the decision, but his church would obey the new health orders.
“Easter is the mark of Christianity. We hoped that the face-to-face meetings were the start of something very beneficial and cathartic for our people and our community. We are deeply concerned for the spiritual, emotional and mental health of our people, ”said Mr. Hamre.
“However, we are also concerned about the weak and the vulnerable.”
Alberta and Saskatchewan have also seen a sharp increase in infections and variants of COVID-19 in recent weeks.
Alberta delayed the final phase of its reopening plans last week amid rising infections and hospital admissions. The province set benchmarks for its reopening plan which largely focused on the number of people hospitalized.
Although Alberta had met the goal of moving to the next phase, which would have eased restrictions in a wide range of areas, including allowing indoor gatherings, hospital admissions had increased. and the recent spike in infections is expected to continue to push those numbers up.
The province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw said she would monitor the data carefully before determining whether further restrictions are needed. She said it seems many people are less likely to follow public health orders
“The real question is what kinds of additional measures would be most effective in reminding us all that we have not yet been through this situation and that we do not have enough vaccines offered to our population to be able to? reduce the risk of a wave of cases turning into a wave of acute care admissions, ”Dr Hinshaw said Monday.
The Saskatchewan government has closed in-person restaurants in Regina and imposed a number of other public health measures after a rapid rise in new infections, largely due to the variants. The province has the highest infection rates in the country and infections have increased by more than 50 percent in less than two weeks.
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