(Dr. Bonnie Henry, Minister Adrian Dix/Photo by Colin Smith Takes Pics)

For the first time ever during the pandemic, B.C.’s provincial health officer has instated regional restrictions to control the surge of COVID-19 transmission in the Lower Mainland.

In a rare weekend press briefing on Saturday, Dr. Bonnie Henry issued a Provincial Health Order banning social gatherings, indoor group activities, and unsafe workplace practices effective 10 p.m. Saturday.

This order applies only to the Vancouver Coastal Health region and Fraser Health region, with the exception of Central Coast and Bella Coola Valley, and will remain in place for a period of two weeks, until November 23.

“This is a time limited order but this is what we need to do now,” said Henry, after expressing concern for rising numbers of hospitalizations and outbreaks in care homes as a result of rapidly rising COVID-19 transmission.

The order was issued after the province recorded 567 more COVID-19 cases between Friday and Saturday, 122 of which were in Vancouver Coastal Health region and 411 in Fraser Health region.

In comparison, there were just three new cases of the virus in Vancouver Island Health region in the past 24 hours.

This new health order focuses on four pillars: social gatherings, travel, indoor group physical activities, and workplace safety.

For two weeks, people living in the Lower Mainland are prohibited from hosting or attending social gatherings of any size, other than with their immediate household. This order supersedes the existing order prohibiting mass gatherings of over 50 people.

Those who live alone can still see the few people they consider to be in their immediate bubble.

The order also strongly recommends that non-essential, non-urgent travel to and from the Lower Mainland not take place for the two week duration. This section, Henry clarified, is not an order but rather a “in the very strongest terms”.

Travel for sports into and out of Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions has been suspended entirely until November 23.

Indoor group physical activities and indoor sports — including all spin classes, dance, yoga, and fitness classes — are also suspended for the time being.

Businesses, recreation centres, and organizers that operate these activities must stop hosting until updated COVID-19 safety plans are in place and approved by medical health officers.

Workplaces in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health region have also been ordered to revisit their workplace safety plans, as Henry says more and more transmission has been taking place at offices, in lunchrooms and other small communal spaces.

In addition, party buses and group limousines have been ordered to stop operating immediately until further notice.

All existing provincial health orders still apply to health regions outside of the Lower Mainland, but Henry says contact tracers are “not seeing that rapidly increasing number of cases” in other parts of the provinces.

As of Saturday, there are 5,491 of the cases are in the Vancouver Coastal Region, 10,520 in Fraser Health, 289 in Vancouver Island Health region, 857 in Interior Health, 459 in Northern Health region, and 90 people whose residence is outside of Canada.

One more person has lost their life to COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, which brings the pandemic death toll to 276 in B.C.

Over 100 people are currently in hospital, with 31 people in ICU with COVID-19.

There are now active, ongoing outbreaks in 33 long-term care or assisted-living facilities and four acute-care facilities.