PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. -- B.C.’s provincial health officer has brought back a number of health restrictions in the Northern Health region after a sudden increase in COVID-19 activity across the North.

Personal gatherings in people’s homes are now restricted to one additional family, or five guests, while personal outdoor gatherings are limited to 50 people.

Organized outside events with more than 200 people also now need to have a COVID-19 safety plan in place. Sporting events with spectators also need to have a COVID-19 safety plan, regardless of whether they’re indoors or outdoors.

These rules do not apply to gyms, fitness classes, restaurants, bars, places of worship or schools.

The new measures take effect on September 7th.

In a teleconference this afternoon, Dr. Bonnie Henry said these restrictions focus their efforts on areas of the greatest transmission and risk.

"I know this will be frustrating for some, particularly in communities where we've not seen transmission for a while,” she said.

“This has really exploded quite quickly in a lot of communities and it spreads very quickly. And we know from our past experiences that there's a lot of connectivity in the North."

Dr. Henry said the Nechako area in particular -- which includes communities such as Fort St. James and Vanderhoof – has seen a rapid spread of the virus, primarily when people gather together for social interactions.

She also said Prince George has seen an increase in COVID-19 activity.

“It is stretching our healthcare system.”

Northern Health has struggled with low vaccination rates in various regions. Although some coastal communities such as Kitimat and Haida Gwaii have strong vaccination rates, others have had much lower vaccine intake. In the Nechako Local Health Area (LHA), just 66 per cent of eligible residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

“90 per cent of the people in the ICU right now in the North are people who have not yet been vaccinated,” said Dr. Henry.

“So this is our chance to move along. We need to raise the alarm right now so that people can take those actions over the next few days and weeks to protect themselves and their families, and to go get immunized.”

B.C. reported 801 new cases of COVID-19 today, including 103 new cases in Northern Health.

There are currently 553 active cases in the region.