New measures implemented in Kelowna to slow spread of COVID-19

Panic buying, high-profile event cancellations, and two confirmed cases

As COVID-19 spreads across the province and into the Okanagan, dozens of events have been cancelled across the region and businesses have begun implementing measures to reduce the chance of the virus infecting more people.

According to the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, there are now more than 100 people who have contracted the virus in B.C., with two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Interior Health region as of March 16.

One of those cases is believed to have entered the region through Kelowna International Airport (YLW), which issued an advisory to travellers who were on flight WS 3326 from Vancouver to Kelowna on March 10.

YLW stated a passenger on the flight tested positive for the virus, with other passengers being asked to monitor themselves if they show any symptoms.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced earlier this week that Canada will close its borders to anyone who is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to slow the spread of contagious virus.

The exception is citizens from the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, along with regular inter-border commerce traffic, which will continue to be allowed in and out of the country.

READ MORE: Canada to close borders to foreigners, but keeps U.S. border open to slow spread of COVID-19

READ MORE: Second presumptive case of COVID-19 in Interior Health

As of March 16, the only airports in the country accepting international flights is Vancouver International Airport, Montreal-Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport and Calgary International Airport.

YLW director Sam Sammadar said things should continue as usual at Kelowna International Airport because the airport only offers flights within Canada and trans-continental flights to the U.S. and Mexico.

The last few days have also seen Kelowna stores running low on essentials such as toilet paper, beans, canned soups, vegetables, hand sanitizer and hand soap as residents stock up in preparation for self-isolation.

In Lake Country, a couple was filmed buying all the meat at Save-On-Foods store over the weekend, sparking public backlash.

READ MORE: Kelowna residents continue to ‘panic shop’ over COVID-19 concerns

READ MORE: Lake Country grocery store manager responds after couple buys store’s entire meat supply

As of March 16, the province also banned all gatherings of 50 or more people.

Henry said she was pleased to see the businesses switching to takeout, delivery and drive-thru services.

Some of those businesses included Starbucks and Tim Hortons, which have shut down dinning areas and will only provide take-out, drive-thru and delivery services until further notice.

Provincial and local events scheduled to take place in Kelowna have also been cancelled or postponed, including the rest of the Kelowna Rockets’ season, the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup tournament, the B.C. Interior Sportsman Show, Kelowna Fan Experience, the campus-to-campus half marathon between Okanagan College and UBCO and international school trips for Central Okanagan students.

Big White also announced it was ending its season earlier on March 17.

READ MORE: B.C. hospitals start cancelling elective surgeries in COVID-19 preparations

READ MORE: Kelowna recreation centres make changes to operations amid COVID-19 concerns

UBCO’s in-person classes were also moved to online classes to avoid spreading the infection, especially for courses with more than 250 students. On- and off-campus gatherings, including sporting events, have also been cancelled.

The university stated graduation planning will continue as usual, but staff are also considering alternative ways of broadcasting it, if necessary.

Services such as the Central Okanagan Food Bank, Lake Country Food Bank, the Kelowna YMCA, and the Okanagan Regional Library have also made changes to their operations to minimize the risk of contracting the infection.

Kelowna’s casinos, Playtime and Chances, were also closed as of March 16.

The City of Kelowna has said it is working on contingency plans should a large number of staff members become ill or start self-isolation.

Currently, waste management, water treatment, emergency services, and transit services are still in operation to minimize the impact on residents and businesses.

READ MORE: Ski season at Big White comes to an early close due to COVID-19

READ MORE: COVID-19: YLW not affected by international flight suspension

The city has advised residents to wash their hands, avoid touching their face, to cough or sneeze into their sleeve, and to stay home if they are sick so as not to pass the illness on.

“Health authorities and other levels of government are evaluating what next steps are needed every day and the city will follow their lead,” said Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran.

“Most city facilities are remaining open at this time, based on the direction of Dr. Bonnie Henry.”

Basran also encouraged residents to use remote options for city services if possible.

“Be vigilant, but also remember the risk is low if you take the necessary precautions,” said Basran.

“Take care of one another, be a good neighbour, a good colleague and be supportive of those who might need to isolate themselves in the weeks ahead.”

Twila Amato
Video journalist, Black Press Okanagan
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