VICTORIA, B.C. – While the restrictions on gatherings and events expired at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry says the province will continue the current restrictions until at least February 16th.

“Given the current rates of transmission and what we saw from the presentations that I gave on Friday, for example, and the number of people currently requiring care in hospital, which is at the highest level for COVID cases that we have had, I will be extending the current restrictions on events and gatherings,” said Henry.

Health officials also announced that gyms and fitness centres across B.C. will be allowed to reopen starting January 20th.

Facilities will have capacity limits in place and proof of vaccination will still be required.

Since gym closures were part of the provincial order and not the Northern Health-specific order, fitness facilities in the north can now reopen with the rest of the province.

“We’ve been working very closely with the fitness industry, and I can’t say enough about how responsive they have been to the needs of the fitness industry and the gyms.”

According to Eryn Collins, Northern Health spokesperson, the Northern Health-specific restrictions will remain in place until at least January 31st.

“The Northern Health regional orders are in effect until at least January 31st, so there is no change to those today. What is changing are some of the PHO orders that were applicable across B.C,” wrote Collins in an email.

Collins says a document is available online to see a comparison of what restrictions apply in the Northern Health region, but that document will likely need to be updated after January 31st.

That means the closures in bars and nightclubs will stay, limitations in restaurants and 50 per cent capacity limits in theatres and stadiums will be in place until at least February 16th.

Henry says there will be no changes to the BC Vaccine Card.

“I know that many people felt that we were overreacting. And I’ve said this from the very beginning of the pandemic, that our challenge and my challenge is to find that balance of making sure we’re doing just enough to address the situations we’re in, and not allow our system to be overwhelmed,” said Henry

She says it’s a balancing act of minimizing the risk while minimizing the societal impacts as well.

“We will reassess the need once again, to keep any or all of these measures in place.”

Dr. Bonnie Henry also announced the first oral antiviral treatment approved by Health Canada. Paxlovid.

“This is Canada’s first oral antiviral treatment for mild to moderate COVID-19, and it’s specifically for those individuals at highest risk of more severe illness and ending up in hospital,” said Dr. Henry.

The provincial health officer says this includes the over 70 age category, clinically extremely vulnerable immune compromised, and younger people who have additional medical conditions and don’t have the protection of vaccines.

“We expect in the next few weeks, we’ll get about 4,000 treatment courses, and these must be started within five days of symptom onset.”

In addition to the new oral antiviral treatment, Dr. Henry says two more vaccines continue to be reviewed by Health Canada.

“One of them is Medicago, a protein subunit vaccine that’s made in tobacco plants and the other is Novavax, which has also had some very promising clinical trials. Both of these have been under review, Novavax has been approved for use in other countries around the world, but has had challenges in terms of scaling up.”

Dr. Henry also addressed the topic of misinformation. She says credible scientific sources are vital to making important decisions for yourself and family.

“I strongly encourage people to not pay attention to many of the things that are spreading on social media and Facebook. You need to find accurate, credible sources, and that of course starts with your family practitioner, with your pediatrician, with your pharmacist and also the BC CDC website.”