Ban on social gatherings and events in B.C. has been extended

Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks at a news conference on April 14, 2020. (Province of BC/Flickr)

B.C. health officials have once again extended the province-wide ban on social gatherings and events, citing concerns around the growing number of COVID-19 variant cases.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry broke the news Friday morning that the tough restrictions first imposed back in November must continue.

"Right now, we need to stay the path," Henry said. "We need to buy time to understand how these variants of concern – whether these variants of concern – are going to affect transmission in our community."

The news was a disappointment to some in the province, who have spent months separated from family and friends, allowed only to drop off care packages or catch up by taking a walk outside.

But health officials had been hinting in recent days that it was too soon to dial back their strict-but-temporary measures, particularly as they have continued to identify new cases of the U.K. and South African COVID-19 variants.

Modelling data released by Henry on Friday revealed B.C. has now identified 28 variant cases, up from 18 on Monday.

Henry did not set a specific date for when the province will reassess its restrictions, but did offer a glimpse of hope that the public health orders could be amended at the end of February if people continue behaving responsibly.

"Through our shared efforts, and as long as we continue on this path, we can start planning for the return of activities at the end of this month," she said.

That could mean a return to youth sports, resumption of in-person church services, and bringing back a "safe six" bubble of close contacts, according to the provincial health officer.

But health officials stressed that reaching that point will require a combined effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, which means abiding by restrictions even on holidays and special occasions.

"Whether it's the Super Bowl this Sunday, Lunar New Year, Family Day, Valentine's Day, it's an important opportunity for us to either allow the virus to spread or for us to slow it down even more," Henry said.

With files from CTV