Travel to B.C.'s Central Okanagan discouraged amid surging COVID-19 cases

Global's Keith Baldrey has more on what led to the government re-imposing COVID-19 restrictions in the Central Okanagan.

British Columbia health officials are discouraging travel to the province’s Central Okanagan, amid surging cases of COVID-19 in the region.

Interior Health interim chief medical health officer Dr. Sue Pollock announced the change in guidance as she declared an outbreak and announced new restrictions for the region during a teleconference Wednesday.

The region includes Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland and Lake Country.

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“We know this is a very busy time here in the Okanagan, we have many people coming in to the Okanagan — travellers to do tourism,” Pollock said.

“We are at this time discouraging any non-essential travel outside the Central Okanagan (by residents) or to the Central Okanagan (by visitors) unless individuals are fully immunized. We ask that individuals, if they are going to come to the Central Okanagan, check before they come.”

There have been 240 cases of COVID-19 in the Central Okanagan in the past week, which makes up more than half of the province’s cases.

Pollock said the “vast majority” of cases were in people aged 20 to 40 years old, and who were unimmunized or partially immunized.

COVID-19 vaccination rates have lagged in B.C.’s Interior.

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In the Central Okanagan, where the daily case rate has climbed over 20 per 100,000 people, about 75 per cent of eligible people have had their first dose, and 57 per cent have been fully immunized.

Provincewide, 80.8 per cent of people have had a first dose, while 63.2 per cent have been fully immunized.

“We know by controlling this growth of COVID-19 in the Central Okanagan, we’re also helping out the rest of our health authority and as well the rest of the province from any trickle-down effects of this increase in cases,” Pollock said.

British Columbia lifted restrictions on non-essential travel within the province in mid-June and began welcoming travellers from elsewhere in Canada on July 1.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the new travel guidance did not apply to children under 12 who are not vaccinated.

“We’re not seeing transmission in children, and we know that the risk is really in the family unit,” she said.

“There are really important reasons why people need to get a break from smoky skies and wildfires and all kinds of other things,” Henry said.

Pollock added that the region was already facing poor air quality from wildfires and a new heat warning ahead of the weekend.

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Pollock said the Big White resort was not in the Central Okanagan area covered by the new restrictions, but that health officials were in close contact with the operator about how it could support efforts to curb virus transmission.

Other new restrictions implemented in the Central Okanagan include mandatory masks in indoor public places, moving gatherings outdoors, reduced capacity for indoor venues and the return of COVID-19 safety plans for bars and restaurants.

The province is also cutting the interval between first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccine to 28 days.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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