Omicron: B.C. government shuts organized gatherings, bars, gyms, health studios Dec. 22, adds capacity restrictions

Seated events reduced to 50%, maximum 6 per table at food establishments as province adds more restrictions in face of Omicron wave in B.C.

A B.C. government graphic outlining new public health orders that come into effect on Dec. 22, 2021. The new measures come in light of the Omicron variant wave spreading rapidly across B.C. Image: B.C. government image

In the face of rapidly rising Omicron variant infections, the B.C. government has issued a public health order that will ban all indoor organized gatherings, close bars and nightclubs, gyms, fitness centres, and dance studios. Capacity at organized seated events such as concerts, sports games, and theatre performances will be capped at 50%. At restaurants, pubs, and cafes, there will be a limit of six people per table.

The new public health order will take effect on Wednesday, Dec. 22 at 11:59 p.m. Currently, the order extends until Jan. 18, 2022.

The change comes in the face of a wave of COVID-19 Omicron variant that is sweeping across the B.C.

As of Dec. 19, the B.C. seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases has increased to 724 from 379 a week prior.

Testing capacity being stretched

Health authorities said the testing capacity is being stretched in B.C., in part due to people seeking tests at testing centres ahead of holiday visits to friends, and asked that people restrict their use of public testing facilities if they do not have symptoms.

In Revelstoke, COVID-19 testing appointments have been maxed out since the weekend. New appointments are made available daily, but were all taken within half an hour on Dec. 20. The clinic is currently booking appointments for several days later.

Increase to rapid test distribution

File photo: Grizzly Plaza pictured in late November, 2021. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

After intense pressure to follow other provinces’ lead on rapid testing, the B.C. government says it is now accelerating use of rapid antigen tests that it had not previously distributed to the public.

The province says it has distributed 1.3 million of the 3.2 million rapid tests it has received and that it has distributed them in a targeted way already, such as to seniors or health care workers.

It also says it has requested an additional 700,000 testing kits and expects them to arrive in late December.

It says it has also “requested” 11 million tests from the federal government and shipment is expected in mid to late January, saying its ask comes from a pool of 84 million tests the federal government has ordered.

No changes to travel restrictions inside B.C.

The government isn’t re-introducing travel restrictions or recommendations, but generally advises people against unnecessary travel and gatherings, saying the focus should be on protecting ourselves and family.

Increased COVID-19 boosters campaign

The government says it will be ramping up its COVID-19 third-dose booster program in January, saying it is ramping up its schedule by a targeted 62% in January. This will include increase in pharmacy-based vaccination capacity in January.

The campaign still targets most at-risk groups, followed by an age-based rollout. The government says it will “ensure appointment wait times remain reasonable,” saying wait times will be reduced to an average of 1-3 weeks.

The government will be opening large mass vaccination clinics in the Lower Mainland, such as at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Scheduled surgeries cancelled

Scheduled surgeries in B.C. will be cancelled starting on January 4. The B.C. government says that urgent and emergency schedules will continue.

Rescheduling of surgeries will be determined through “continuous monitoring” in January.

Still plan to open schools Jan. 4

B.C. authorities said they are still planning to go ahead with return to in-person learning at schools and post-secondary institutions on Jan. 4, 2022. Generally, the current plan is to plan for a re-opening schools.

This update is based on information provide before a Dec. 21, 2021 press conference on the changes.

Aaron Orlando is a Revelstoke-based journalist who serves as creative director of and Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. He's been on the news beat in Revelstoke for the past 14 years, serving in senior editorial roles. If you have or call/text him at 250-814-8710.