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As Omicron spreads, B.C. adds to gathering restrictions

Among the public health orders effective on Dec. 22 at 11:59 p.m.: all gyms, fitness centres and dance studios are closed, all indoor venues, such as movie theatres and arenas, are reduced to 50 per cent capacity (this does not apply to restaurants and pubs) and all bars and nightclubs are closed
public health orders Dec21

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said it is apparent the Omicron variant will soon become the dominant variant in B.C. and will overtake Delta.

Because of its rapid transmission, more gathering restrictions are being implemented. Some came into effect this past Monday and more measures are coming into effect on Wednesday, Dec. 22, at 11:59 p.m.

These public health orders are now in effect until at least Jan. 31:

• household gatherings are restricted to members of the home plus a maximum of 10 visitors, all of whom must be vaccinated;

• all sports tournaments are cancelled (this includes events such as the annual Kamloops International Bantam Ice Hockey Tournament and the provincial curling championships, both of which were to be held in Kamloops in January);

• all organized New Year’s Eve parties are cancelled, but dinners at restaurants and pubs are permissible. There are no limits to operating hours or hours during which liquor can be served;

• there is no table hopping permitted at restaurants/pubs;

• vaccine cards are mandatory at all events;

These public health orders are in effect from Dec. 23 until at least Jan. 18:

• All gyms, fitness centres and dance studios are closed;

• all indoor venues, such as movie theatres and arenas, are reduced to 50 per cent capacity (this does not apply to restaurants and pubs);

• all bars and nightclubs are closed;

• no indoor organized gatherings of any size permitted;

• maximum of six people per table in restaurants and pubs.

There are no changes to rules with faith gatherings, nor are there any travel restrictions between regions in B.C.

While cases of Omicron are surging, Henry said thus far health officials are not seeing serious illness among those infected.

She said this could be due to the fact most of those infected are younger, with the vast majority immunized, though she cautioned it is too early to know definitively if Omicron does indeed cause milder symptoms than does Delta.

“Does it cause more breakthough cases or more severe illnesses?” Henry said. “Some of those questions we just don’t have definitive answers yet. One thing that is very clear is that Omicron is much more transmissible.”

Henry said COVID-19 vaccines appear to be providing good protection against the Omicron variant with respect to curtailing the severity of illness.

Henry said rapid spread of the Omicron variant is inevitable.

“We cannot stop cases from happening, but we want to bend that curve down so we don’t have a surge on our hospitals again,” Henry added.

Testing kits coming

The province is asking that only people with symptoms attend public testing sites, noting B.C. is expecting delivery of 700,000 rapid tests by the end of this month and has asked Ottawa for 10-million such tests, to be delivered in January. These rapid tests will be used in areas such as long-term care homes, schools, provincial prisons and hospitals.

Students expected to be in class in January

Students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 are still expected to return to class on Jan. 4, with post-secondary classes set to resume on Jan. 10.

Non-urgent surgeries postponed

Scheduled non-urgent surgeries will be postponed as of Jan. 4 to prepare hospitals for COVID-19 cases and to allow staff to join the immunization effort. In B.C., about 7,000 surgeries are done each week and the postponement means there will be about 3,000 fewer surgeries performed each week. Urgent and emergency surgeries will continue.

Booster shot program ramps up

The province’s booster shot program is expanding significantly across B.C., with Interior Health soon to announce larger spaces in a number of communities.

Chamber weighs in on restrictions

Kamloops Chamber of Commerce executive director Acacia Pangilinan expressed concern about the short notice of the restrictions, noting businesses have already spent money to provide services for people during the Christmas holidays. She said restaurants, for example, have already “sunk costs.”

“It’s starting to feel like death by 1,000 cuts for the restaurant industry and fitness industry,” Pangilinan said.

Pangilinan noted federal supports available for the hardest-hit businesses, but said she hopes that support from the provincial government is also coming alongside the announcement.