Confusion prevails around new COVID-19 restrictions in B.C.

British Columbia’s Ministry of Health is clarifying the latest rules restricting social gatherings after new regional public health orders caused confusion. 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the sweeping new restrictions in a special media briefing on Saturday amid spiking COVID-19 cases. The new orders focus on social gatherings, travel, indoor group exercise and workplaces.

They apply to residents of the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions for the next two weeks. Residents of both regions are being told not to have social interactions with anyone outside of their immediate household members.

Almost immediately, individuals and businesses criticized the orders as unclear and vague. 

On social media, many specifically asked for clarity about social gatherings and what constitutes a “household.”

“I know there has been some confusion on what immediate household means,” Ministry spokesperson Shannon Greer said in an email.

“These would be the people you spend the most time with and are physically close to. These would be people who are part of your regular routine, so household members, immediate family, a close friend or the people you have regular close contact with “

Those who live alone cannot host gatherings but can continue to see members of what they would consider their immediate household at home, outside or at a restaurant, she said.

Contradiction on outdoor gatherings

The Health Ministry also clarified that the prohibition on gatherings includes those held outdoors, at restaurants or at other venues.

The ministry then clarified again that outdoor gatherings didn’t include walks, as long as they don’t “turn into a group of people gathering outside.”

Sowing further confusion, Vancouver Coastal Health posted on social media Sunday afternoon that outdoor gatherings were, in fact, allowed.

Later on Sunday though it clarified its messaging and said that until Nov. 23 there are to be no social gatherings of any size with anyone other than your immediate household, in homes or outdoors.

It mirrored the province’s update by saying that walks were acceptable as long as they didn’t turn into a group.

But it said that people could gather in small groups in restaurants.

“We need to reduce our social interactions as much as possible,” said the authority in an email to us.

It also said that people who live alone could continue to see, “members of what they would consider their immediate household at home, outside or at a restaurant.”

‘Come out to the bars’

Businesses also expressed concern about the lack of specificity in the health orders and some shared messages that contradicted them. 

Jeff Guignard, executive director of the B.C. Alliance of Beverage Licensees, emphasized that restaurants and bars were still open for business. 

“Our message today is we want people to stop having private gatherings, come out to the bars and restaurants where we can keep you safe, keep you socially distanced,” Guignard said. 

Establishments won’t be telling people who they can and can’t hang out with as long as no more than six people are seated together, he added.

‘What are our next steps?’

Dominik Desbois, CEO of Spin Society in Vancouver, temporarily closed his group cycling fitness club as per the provincial health order, but he’s not sure what might happen after that. 

The province says facilities will be able start operating again once their new reopening plans have been approved, but Debois and other business owners we spoke with said they don’t know what that means.

“What are our next steps? Who do we contact? What do we need to do to reopen?” Desbois said, adding that he was concerned the orders might last beyond the two-week period. 

Some are worried the new orders don’t go far enough.

Caroline Colijn, a mathematics professor at Simon Fraser University who has been doing modelling in conjunction with the BC Centre for Disease Control, says cases in B.C. are doubling every one to two weeks.

“Anything we do for two weeks is so temporary we will barely see the impact before it ends,” Colijn said. 

“So I am hoping they have a plan beyond two weeks.”

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix looks through his notes as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares to provide an update on the COVID-19 situation in B.C. Critics say new provincial health orders are too unclear.(Mike McArthur)

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