New Omicron COVID-19 restrictions: B.C. bans indoor organized events and gatherings, postpones surgeries

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry answers questions from the media in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada December 15, 2020. REUTERS/Jennifer Gauthier (Jennifer Gauthier / reuters)

British Columbia announces a series of new restrictions as the Omicron COVID-19 variant spreads, which will be in place from Dec. 22 at midnight to at least Jan.18.

The new public health orders include:

  • A ban on indoor organized events and gatherings of any size (ex. wedding receptions, celebratory events, parties at banquet halls, event spaces, restaurants and private settings)

  • Bars, nightclubs, gyms, fitness centres and dance studios must close

  • Sports tournaments must be cancelled

  • Restaurants can operate with a maximum of 6 per table and physical distancing or barriers between tables

  • Seated events at concert venues, sports games, theatre performances and movie theatres can operate at 50 per cent capacity, regardless of the size of the venue, with proof of vaccination and masking required

The B.C. Ministry of Health is also postponing non-urgent scheduled surgeries starting Jan. 4, 2022, "to manage pressure on acute care facilities."

"Omicron is definitely spreading rapidly and is more transmissible than what we have seen with the Delta variant that we have been managing over the last few months," Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s provincial health officer said at a press conference on Tuesday.

"Over this past weekend its become clear that our best case scenario about how Omicron might be different in terms of severity [is] looking less and less likely."

Dr. Henry added that Omicron is more easily able to infect people who have been infected with a previous variant of COVID-19, and it is "inevitable" that people across the province will be exposed to the virus at some point.

"We know that it is inevitable now that most of us in the province will be exposed at some point," she said.

"The way this virus is being transmitted, the strain of the virus is being transmitted in communities across the province, it is overtime very likely that all of us will have exposure to it. How it affects us depends on our own actions and what we are doing."

While the personal gathering rules from Friday have not changed in the province (10 individuals or one additional household maximum), Dr. Henry stressed that everyone needs to not only keep their number of contacts as small as possible, it needs to be the same small group of people for any interactions.

"Not one family here tonight and another tomorrow, and lunch with friends the next day," she explained. "Pick your group, make it as small as possible, and stick with them this holiday season."