Editor’s note: The Western Canada newsletter is taking a break for the holidays. We’ll be back on Jan. 5.
Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
Just last week, British Columbia health officials appeared willing to take a slow-and-steady approach to the Omicron variant of COVID-19 – not relaxing restrictions, as many had hoped would happen for Christmas gatherings, but not bringing in any new rules, either.
That changed this week, when provincial health officials announced a suite of new measures that will upend holiday plans and once again close some businesses.
Starting at 11:59 p.m. local time on Wednesday, bars, nightclubs, gyms, fitness centres and dance studios will have to close, and all seated events will be reduced to 50-per-cent capacity. Indoor gatherings, including weddings, are being cancelled.
Restaurants and cafés will be able to remain open, but there will be a six-person limit per table and physical distancing must be followed.
B.C. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said Tuesday that most people in the province will be exposed to the Omicron variant, which has replaced Delta as the dominant variant.
“They say adversity introduces us to ourselves,” said Dr. Henry. “Our storm with COVID-19 is not over.”
B.C. made its announcement as Quebec and two Atlantic provinces introduced their own new restrictions. Prince Edward Island has also joined Newfoundland and Labrador in announcing isolation requirements for visitors.
Manitoba is limiting capacity at gyms, movie theatres and restaurants to 50-per-cent capacity, and the province has also introduced limits for private indoor gatherings that affect both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Alberta opened up booster shots Tuesday to anyone 18 and over who had their second dose at least five months ago. Last week, Premier Jason Kenney announced what he described as “modest” tweaks to the province’s limits on private indoor gatherings to make it easier for people to gather over the Christmas holidays.
Mr. Kenney pleaded with people to reduce their social contacts over the holidays by half in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Health Minister Jason Copping announced capacity limits for large venues – 50 per cent for venues with capacity above 1,000; and a limit of 500 people for venues with capacity of 500 to 1,000. Spectators at events such as hockey games will need to wear masks at all times. There will be limits and liquor curfews at restaurants and bars, and activities such as dancing and billiards will be prohibited.
Saskatchewan is forgoing any new public-health measures for the holidays.
But Saqib Shahab, the province’s Chief Medical Health Officer, released grim projections that suggested a wave of hospitalizations by the end of the month unless new measures are introduced to limit people’s contacts: “We will see a surge with Omicron, we can’t escape that.”
Dr. Shahab said he had recommended internally to the government that people in Saskatchewan need to reduce contacts by 50 per cent. No further restrictions have been implemented, with the province releasing holiday guidelines for rapid testing and ventilation instead.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.