B.C. cancels sports tournaments, New Year’s Eve parties in bid to flatten Omicron-fuelled curve


The B.C. government is cancelling sports tournaments and New Year’s Eve parties as well as restricting capacity in large indoor venues as COVID-19 cases surge in the province, fuelled in part by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the new orders would go into effect Monday, Dec. 20, until Jan. 31 at 11:59 p.m.

In addition, the province will also limit personal gatherings to one household plus 10 other individuals, or one additional household, so long as all individuals are vaccinated.

Henry said the province is responding to an increasing proportion of cases driven by the Omicron variant, with B.C. about a week behind Ontario, where Omicron is rapidly becoming the dominant strain of the virus.

It comes as cases surge in the province overall after 759 cases were confirmed Thursday, far exceeding the seven-day rolling average, which was closer to 360.

In particular, cases are increasing in the most populous parts of the province like the Vancouver Coastal Health region, driven primarily by unstructured social gatherings like parties, and mostly in younger people.

Officials say while there is limited data on the severity of illness linked to Omicron, so far the vast majority of those infected have been immunized for COVID-19 and have not experienced severe symptoms.

“This is of course not where we want to be. we had been making good progress, turning the corner of the wave we had been dealing with these past few months in B.C.,” Henry said Friday, adding that if cases continue to increase rapidly, “we know that a certain proportion of those people will need hospital care.”

Another new health order announced Friday is an amended vaccine card program requiring events of any size to require the BC Vaccine Card. Currently, only events of 50 people or must have people produce their vaccination records.

The province will also once again restrict movement at restaurants, meaning seated groups can not get up and mingle with other groups.

Officials said they were suspending all sports tournaments over the holidays beginning Monday because tournaments have been a significant contributor to the spread of COVID-19.

“I know there are a number of tournaments, particularly hockey tournaments, that were due to start on boxing day. Those will need to be suspended for the period of time of this order,” said Henry.

New Year’s Eve parties where people can come together and mingle have also been ordered cancelled because such parties have been super-spreader events in the past, officials said. However, restaurants will still be permitted to open for dinner on Dec. 31 — with no restrictions in place on operating hours or alcohol sales.

The province said it will also emphasize to the retail sector that businesses should have COVID-19 safety plans in place for holiday sales.

While Henry did not announce any new restrictions on inter-provincial non-essential travel Friday, she maintained that people who aren’t vaccinated should not travel.

So far, B.C. has confirmed 135 cases of the new Omicron variant with more than half — 71 — of those in Island Health.

The next highest total belongs to Fraser Health with 38. Among other authorities, Vancouver Coastal has reported 20, Interior Health has five and Northern Health has one.

Other provinces like Ontario have reintroduced strict public health orders to try to contain the spread of Omicron, and earlier this week the federal government issued a travel advisory discouraging non-essential international travel due to the variant.

While much about the variant remains unknown, so far it appears vaccination may not be as effective at stopping the spread of Omicron, according to Dr. Gerald Evans, a Kingston-based infectious disease expert at Queen’s University’s School of Medicine.

“We know that two doses of vaccination only provides about 30 per cent protection from being infected with Omicron, whereas it gave you about 70 per cent protection against being infected with Alpha and Delta,” he told CHEK News Thursday.

It’s still unclear whether Omicron causes more or less serious illness than Delta, but so far there are no known deaths in Ontario or B.C. associated with the new variant cases.


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