Additional restrictions, particularly a lockdown on non-essential businesses, will not be announced on Monday, according to British Columbia’s health minister.
Rumours claiming that B.C. will impose further restrictions on businesses have been circulated online, as coronavirus infections continue to climb, particularly variant cases.
However, Adrian Dix, the province’s minister of health, addressed the rumours during a media availability on Saturday, saying British Columbians should not expect to hear news of additional restrictions, particularly on businesses.
“No,” he said, in response to a question regarding the rumoured lockdowns.
Dix’s brief comment comes hours ahead of the Horgan government’s scheduled throne speech on Monday.
His comments also come after the B.C. Green Party demanded the province impose a three-week lockdown that includes shutting down schools and non-essential businesses as well as enforcing the non-essential travel ban that currently exists.
Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the province — guided in its decision-making by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry — appears to be “forfeiting the fight altogether” on the rising number of COVID-19 variant cases, and is failing to step up to the challenge. She has also said tighter restrictions were in place at the beginning of the pandemic when COVID-19 cases were much lower — although testing was far more limited in the early days of the pandemic.
“We did this a year ago and we did this when we had one-tenth of the case numbers we have today, per day. It is not like this is beyond the imagination because we actually asked people a year ago to stay home and to get the numbers down and we achieved it. We were proud of it as a province,” said Furstenau.
Dr. Henry has repeatedly stated that she believes schools remain safe, with recent exposures occurring as a result of contact during spring break, and that only businesses with clusters of cases will be closed down temporarily.
Premier John Horgan has previously stated that enforcing the province’s own rules around non-essential travel is difficult, if not impossible, due to British Columbia’s geographical makeup.
Officials, however, did introduce a new order last Thursday that expedites temporary workplace closures when there is transmission between three or more employees.
That announcement came on the same day the province reported a record-setting 1,293 new positive cases in a single day. The following day, B.C. reported 1,262 new cases — making it the second-highest daily total after the record set the previous day — prompting increased calls for more restrictions to be imposed.
Dean Karlen, a professor of physics at the University of Victoria who has analyzed COVID-19 models over the past year, said it is clear that the so-called “race” between vaccinations and variants is over.
He said the variants won when they started to become dominant before vaccinations were widespread and that it’s time to focus on reducing transmission in parallel with ramping up vaccinations.
“Clearly, we still want to push vaccines as much as possible but we’re going to have to help those vaccines a lot through personal behaviour and reduction in transmission,” he said.
Karlen said he believes the current restrictions will result in somewhere between a two and four per cent decrease in the growth rate.
“None of those is really a good outcome. The best perhaps would be flattening this curve, having a constant number of infections per day,” he said.
A four per cent decrease would see new cases and hospitalizations stagnate, while a two per cent decrease would see both continue to rise into late May, his graphs show.
The vaccination program is having a positive impact and is factored into that equation. Without it, he said he believes the viral spread would be about two per cent faster per day.
“The coming months are going to be challenging not just for B.C., but for the five provinces from B.C. to Quebec,” he said.
The vaccines offer a ray of hope but health restrictions must be maintained to get through this wave, he said.
“It’s not going to be easy.”
With files from Rob Shaw/CHEK News