New public health orders in B.C. will prohibit indoor dining and group fitness activities, increase mask usage in schools and pull back on a variance that allowed for limited indoor church services.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the changes are intended as a "circuit breaker" to slow down transmission of the coronavirus and its more dangerous variants in B.C.
Case counts have been increasing in recent weeks, and on Monday, the province reported a three-day weekend total of 2,518 new cases.
More than 2,000 of those cases are in the Lower Mainland. Interior Health's total for the three-day period was 156.
In addition to higher case counts, which are on par with B.C.'s pandemic peak in November 2020, the province has also reported an increase in variant cases, adding 329 on Monday.
There are now 413 active variant cases in the province. To date, there have been 2,233 such cases, with most (1,915) being the variant first identified in the U.K. The South Africa variant has been seen in 48 cases and the Brazil variant has been spotted in 270 cases.
Henry raised particular concern with the Brazil variant. While most cases are in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, some cases of the Brazil variant have been reported in Interior Health, according to Henry.
"We know this variant is more transmissible to people, but it has also shown, in some parts of the world, to be less amenable to the vaccine," she said.
As a result, Henry said action must be taken to slow transmission.
Indoor dining at all food and liquor premises is now prohibited, but locations with patios can continue outdoor service and takeout and delivery can continue.
Additionally, group indoor fitness activities of any kind are now also prohibited. Individual and one-on-one activities can continue, however.
"We are seeing transmission through social interactions, but they are being amplified and transmitted through some of these settings in our communities that have remained open," Henry said, explaining the changes.
Last week saw two significant changes for places of worship in B.C. But with new guidelines issued on Monday, only one will continue.
Initially, places of worship were told they could hold outdoor gatherings up to 50 people and more limited indoor gatherings on up to four designated days. The changes were made as variances to orders in light of upcoming religious holidays.
The variance allowing for limited indoor worship has been struck. Henry said she did so with a "heavy heart," having worked with faith leaders to implement the variances.
Finally, Henry has also changed the guidelines for K-12 schools in the province, recommending mask usage for all students Grade 4 and up.
"This needs to be done in a way that supports children to wear a mask at all times while in the school setting, and done in a way that is positive and supportive," she said.
Another order by Henry has closed the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort, following increases in cases there, despite contact tracing, testing and other measures taken by health officials.
Among Henry's guidance for everyone is to avoid all non-essential travel and to stay home if you're sick and get tested if any symptoms arise, urging people to continue working from home if at all possible.
The three-day weekend period saw 936 new cases on Saturday, 805 on Sunday and 774 on Monday.
By health region, there were 816 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,280 in Fraser Health, 142 in Vancouver Island Health, 156 in Interior Health, 121 in Northern Health and three cases in people who reside outside Canada.
There are currently 299 people in hospital and 79 of those patients are in critical care.
Six additional deaths were reported on Monday, bringing B.C.'s total to 1,455.