B.C. keeping pandemic restrictions in place with no end date

The current orders restricting daily life and socialization in B.C. are going to stay in place indefinitely, the province announced Friday.

The orders had been set to expire at midnight. In announcing the extension, officials said B.C has made “encouraging” progress in reducing the spread of COVID-19, but the situation isn’t stable enough to allow people to start getting together again.

“Right now, we need to stay the path,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “We need to protect the progress we have made and not squander our progress.”

Henry said there’s a chance things might change by March, but there is no official expiry date on the extended orders.

“By the end of the month, once again, we can look to having our ‘safe six’ — our bubble — again,” she said. 

“I will be continuously reviewing the data that we have to see if we can do it earlier,” she continued. “But I want people to start thinking: It’s not going to be, ‘Yay, we’re out of this, we’re back to normal.’ It’s going to be, ‘Can we slowly and thoughtfully find an increase in those social connections that we all really want?'”

The limits have been in place since November, banning social gatherings with people who aren’t in the same household.

A man walks through Vancouver on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

B.C. needs to buy time: Henry

The latest round of modelling was also released Friday morning. It shows the rate of infection in B.C. has been moving slightly downward in recent weeks, but still isn’t declining as quickly as officials had hoped.

Data released Friday shows the COVID-19 reproductive number is stubbornly hovering around one in every health authority — meaning each case is still leading to at least one new case.

The situation in B.C. could take a turn for the worse if social interactions increase too quickly, or if new and more-transmissible variants begin to spread.

“We are on a good trajectory, but it could change very quickly,” said Henry. 

“If we start to see one of these variants take off, then all bets are off and we may actually increase some of the restrictions we have in place. I don’t want to go there.”

She said continuing with current restrictions will buy time to flatten the curve, continue vaccinating the public and learn more about variants of concern. She said keeping case counts low will also ensure the health-care system has room to respond if variants take off.

The Fraser Health and Interior Health regions had the lowest reproduction rate as of Tuesday, but only by a fraction. The Island Health region was the highest, sitting at just above one.

Few variant cases, but concern remains

B.C. has sequenced 4,500 cases since Dec. 1 to check for variants of the coronavirus first detected internationally. Variants from South Africa and the U.K. were detected in 28 of those samples.

Based on those results, the province said variants are still considered rare in B.C. But, since they’re more transmissible, that could change quickly.

Data on the variant found in the U.K. suggests that subtle change is enough to make the new strain 50 per cent more transmissible from person to person than the common strain of the coronavirus. If it spreads, it could dramatically increase the growth rate of the pandemic curve in B.C.

Friday’s modelling also showed children have had a low infection rate since returning to school on Sept. 7. Children under the age of 18 accounted for 12.5 per cent of all cases in the province.

The return to class in September and again in January after the winter holiday did not lead to a spike in community transmission, the data said.

Both Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix urged residents during their last news conference not to make any plans outside their household for Super Bowl Sunday.

The province reported 465 new cases on Thursday.

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