COVID-19: BC health officials eye lifting restrictions by mid-February


Most recent provincial health orders that put restrictions on indoor social gatherings are up for review on Feb. 15

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If the current downward trend in COVID-19 cases continues, restrictions could be lifted by mid-February in time for the Family Day long weekend, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Friday.

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The most recent provincial health orders that put restrictions on indoor social gatherings, including a ban on organized gatherings such as wedding and funeral receptions, are up for review on Feb. 15.

Restrictions also reduced the capacity at venues for concerts and sports events to 50 per cent, shut down nightclubs and bars and put tightened rules in restaurants.

Indoor personal gatherings at households or vacation accommodation are limited to those in the household plus 10 visitors or one other household.

“We are seeing the peak, I hope, in our hospitals right now. There is a strain on our hospitals. We don’t expect to see the census (numbers) drop for some time. But we’re also at a point where much in the community is changing and people have a level of immunity because we’ve stepped up booster (vaccine) doses,” said Henry.

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“If we are continuing on this trajectory, then, yes, I do hope that we will be able to lift some of those restrictions and gradually get back to those needed connections that we have.”

Henry said Family Day, which is Feb. 21, will not be a time to completely open as history has proven you can get a rebound when you do so, but a step in that direction.

There has been no discussion of removing requirements to wear masks and distance in indoor public spaces, for example, or a requirement to show proof of vaccination to enter places such as restaurants, pubs, theatres and sports venues.

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Henry’s comments come on the second anniversary of the first documented COVID-19 case in B.C. and with the province in the midst of a fifth wave of the coronavirus.

In just weeks, the rapidly transmissible Omicron virus variant , first detected in South Africa, has swept through B.C. and much of the world.

It now accounts for more than 96 per cent of new cases in B.C., replacing the Delta variant.

There are so many cases, the province has given up on contact tracing and testing is only being offered to high-risk groups.

But testing that has been carried out shows cases having peaked in early January.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control data shows the seven-day moving average of daily cases peaked above 3,300 in first days of January and dropped below 2,000 recently.

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While hospitalizations have risen rapidly and there are more people in hospital from COVID-19 than previously during the pandemic, those numbers are expected to come down, say provincial health officials.

Weekly new hospitalizations of those with COVID-19 have risen above 600, well above the previous peak of 400 in 2020. Weekly death rates have also been on the rise but remain below their peak in early 2020.

There is also preliminary evidence that Omicron causes less severe illness , particularly in those who are vaccinated.

B.C. health officials continue to encourage anyone who has not been vaccinated as the best line of defence against COVID-19.

More than half of five to 11 year olds, the latest age group to be eligible for a vaccine, have now received a first dose, but that rate lags behind provinces such as Newfoundland and Quebec.

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Nearly 44 per cent of those eligible for a third, booster dose have now had one.

B.C health officials have advocated for the third jab to offer renewed protection as scientific evidence shows that protection wanes at about the six-month mark.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix noted there’s a tendency to focus a lot on those who are not following COVID-19 measures, but overwhelmingly people have been responsive in a positive way.

“It’s not too late to join. It’s not too late,” said Dix. “Today is the best day, if you haven’t been vaccinated, to get vaccinated.”

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