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Message is clear: British Columbians should avoid all non-essential travel, gatherings

Last Updated Apr 2, 2021 at 7:08 am PDT

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Easter long weekend no time to travel, reminds province as daily COVID-19 numbers remain high

Surrey RCMP says members will enforce public health orders

Some churches appear to be planning to defy orders against indoor, in-person services for Easter

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The long weekend is no time to travel. That is once again the message from the province as COVID-19 case numbers remain very high in B.C.

In the latest update from the province Thursday, 832 new cases were reported, along with another five deaths — that daily case total a little below the record high of 1,013 set earlier in week.

The total number of infections in B.C. since the pandemic began has breached the 100,000 mark, with a total of 1,463 related deaths.

The written statement from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix also detailed 90 new cases of variants of concern, bringing the total number of cases identified to 2,643 — predominantly the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the U.K., followed by the P.1 variant associated with Brazil, and the B.1.351 first found in South Africa.

There are 192 active variant cases identified in B.C. as of Thursday.

Despite the high daily case counts and concerns about variants of the virus, a group called Liberty Coalition Canada is listing churches vowing to ignore public health orders and hold in-person, public Easter services.

“If your church will open publicly without government-imposed restrictions that violate personal conscience, the nature of worship, or the ability for people to participate (for example: honouring face-mask exemptions and not turning anyone way) and if you are an authorized representative of your church, please submit your church’s information below to be added to this list,” reads a page on the group’s website.

Surrey RCMP warns against defying public health orders

There are 11 churches identified on that list in B.C., including some in Vancouver and Surrey.

“Certainly it is a very important weekend for the community and it’s a weekend that typically encourages people gathering and celebrating together, but unfortunately things look different this year,” says Surrey RCMP Cpl. Joanie Sidhu.

“If there is any information that we come to know where groups of individuals are going to be gathering in numbers that exceed what is allowed according to public health orders, we will be following up with those individuals and, where appropriate, issuing violation tickets.”

Sidhu calls it a fine line when it comes to faith.

“We do honour individuals’ rights to their worship, but at the same time, we do have a duty to enforce these public health orders,” she says.

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Surrey’s COVID-19 compliance and enforcement team is fully staffed for the long weekend and Sidhu says it will be following up with places of worship to ensure rules are being followed.

The team has completed more than 70,000 checks since the start of the pandemic last year, the vast majority of which have found people complying with public health orders.

“That includes faith-based institutions, places of worship and just people in the community. There is a small-percentage of people who aren’t, and that is where we focus our enforcement efforts,” she tells NEWS 1130.

On Monday, B.C.’s top doctor announced a return to tighter restrictions for religious services in B.C., prohibiting indoor, in-person gatherings and worship services of any size due to the recent rise in COVID-19 infection rates and worries it was being driven, in part, by more transmissible variants of concern.

Just the previous week, it was announced that public health rules around were to be relaxed from March 28 to May 13 to allow limited, indoor religious services through Easter, Passover, and Ramadan.

-With files from Sonia Aslam