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B.C. gets new public health orders that restrict travel, activities

Provincial health officer says it is an order to not travel outside a home health region for non-essential reasons
Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry has been providing updates on the COVID-19 situation in B.C. | B.C. government

Travel and activities will be restricted across B.C. thanks to a spate of new public health orders issued by provincial health officer Bonnie Henry on November 19.

Some new orders include that:

• all British Columbians are ordered to avoid non-essential travel outside their home health region until December 7;
• fitness facilities, such as spin-class businesses and hot yoga studios, will be ordered to close;
• all community based social gatherings, or events, will be suspended provincewide for the next two weeks, including those with less than 50 people and are in controlled settings; and
• mandatory wearing of masks in all indoor public common areas and retail spaces not only for staff but also for customers.

Travel for work is considered essential travel. 

While Henry said that the restriction on travel was an order, and it is listed on the government website as being an order, she later sounded as though it remains merely a recommendation in the strongest possible terms, and therefore not a new law: "We trust people to take the right actions." The province's website said flouting orders could result in fines. There was no mention of the Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions being considered one agglomeration, so theoretically, crossing Boundary Road to enter Vancouver or Burnaby for a non-essential reason would be against the new order. 

The order on masks includes commercial buildings and in spaces such as elevators. She said that workers do not need to wear masks at their desks.

Henry referred to the order as being in effect in retail and commercial buildings, and did not mention residential buildings or elevators in those buildings. 

She said her health order against group activities includes houses of worship. She said that individuals are still able to go to these places if they book in advance or otherwise ensure that they are not in a group. 

"The main focus of these measures is to reduce our social interaction [and limit the spread of COVID-19,]" she said. 

Henry said that inspections and audits of businesses, to ensure that they are complying with COVID-19 safety plans, will be stepped up. Businesses that are not in compliance will be ordered to close and potentially fined. 

"The bottom line is we will be extending the orders and directions that are placed in Vancouver Coastal [Health] and Fraser Health for an additional two weeks, and so that takes us through to midnight on December 7," Henry said. "In addition, we are going to be extending these orders to apply province-wide."

There was some uncertainty about the new travel order because the previous directive that Henry outlined on November 7 only strictly forbid travelling outside Vancouver Coastal Health or Fraser Health to play sports. It was only a strong recommendation not to travel outside Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions for non-essential travel. The government's website, however, lists any non-essential travel across health-region boundaries as being part of a legal "order."