Emergency health orders in B.C. banning activities such as social gatherings of any size were extended indefinitely on Friday.
The orders were set to expire on February 5, but in a press conference Friday morning provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced they would now be kept in place on an ongoing review basis.
“I will be continually reviewing and reconsider the need for these restrictions based on the incidence and prevalence of the virus,” she said.
In the province’s latest epidemiological data, rates of transmission have been brought back down and Dr. Henry says B.C.’s COVID-19 curve has hit a plateau.
However, health officials remain concerned about the recent emergence of more infectious and potentially more deadly variants of the virus.
28 cases of variants of concern have been identified in the province, including 19 of the UK variant and nine of the South African variant.
The province says that while these are relatively low numbers of these variants, the case count has doubled in just one week.
“We need to buy time to understand how these variants of concern or whether these variants of concern are going to affect transmission in our community,” Dr. Henry said.
She added that keeping health orders in place is also aimed at getting the province’s immunization program back on track following delays in the acquisition and distribution of vaccines at the federal level.
The provincial health officer left the door open for the possibility of a loosening of restrictions in March, including a return of youth sport.
Health officials have been in touch with viaSport to try to put plans in place for physical activities in the spring, and Dr. Henry added we could see a return to the province’s “safe six” bubble policy.
However, she stressed that there is no hard timeline on COVID-19 health orders and a lot will depend on vaccination and on seeing the progression of variants.
“It’s not going to be a ‘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, and some of the activities that we’ve had to curtail,” said Henry.
The latest information on province-wide restrictions is online at gov.bc.ca.