Chamber desires monetary assist in wake of recent COVID restrictions – Kelowna Information

Photo: Contributed

Kelowna Chamber of Commerce executive director Dan Rogers

Now that the provincial government has imposed even tighter COVID-19 restrictions in the Central Okanagan, the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce wants it to pony up.

Due to a rise in COVID numbers in the Central Okanagan, the province has ordered the immediate closure of nightclubs and bars, reduced the number of people allowed to sit at a restaurant table and told people who are not fully vaccinated to not travel to the region.

As a result, the chamber wants to see some cash.

“This is a major blow to the business community and the community at large, and we hope as the province responds to this outbreak that they also consider specific financial assistance for the businesses in the areas that are being impacted by these new region-specific orders,” chamber executive director Dan Rogers said in a press release.

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran also issued a statement late Friday afternoon, saying this isn’t where he expected the city to be in August while urging everyone to get double vaccinated. He, too, noted the dent these restrictions will put on businesses.

“I absolutely understand how challenging this continues to be for you,” Basran said, “and I ask that residents and visitors continue to safely support your local businesses.”

The chamber said it understands the need for the restrictions, and it was not pleased that regional restrictions were put in place last week when they were not instituted earlier this year when other regions had significantly more infections.

It would also like the government to come up with regulations that will allow businesses to “operate in an environment where COVID-19 is a concern and a small percentage of the population refuse to get vaccinated.”

The chamber would also like to see financial support for non-profit organizations that were hoping to use larger gatherings to raise much-needed funds.


Photo: file photo

“It could have been a lot worse.”

That’s according to Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association after the province turned back the clock on indoor gatherings.

Liquor service at restaurants will again be cut off at 10 p.m., while tables will revert back to a maximum of six people per table.

The restrictions pertain only to the Central Okanagan, as cases of COVID-19 continue to spiral across the region.

“I would says (the industry) is breathing a sigh of relief that they are able to operate,” Tostenson told Castanet.

“We can operate with six people at a table. Ten o’clock closing is tough on patios, especially in the summer. That’s going to be a bit of a hit.

“I feel sick about our businesses having to close, there are restaurants that are closed, but if you look at the evidence of what’s happened, it’s largely unvaccinated transmission.”

Tostenson wondered out loud what it’s going to take for people to take this seriously.

We’re shutting down a whole economy in the Central Okanagan, he says.

“The solution is vaccination, and everybody who’s ignoring it is putting everybody else at economic, and health risk.

“We really, really, really plead with everybody to take this seriously, move forward, and let Kelowna be an example.”

He pointed to Whistler which was a COVID hotspot at one point, but now says the town is about 97 per cent vaccinated.

They put their minds to it, and now it’s flourishing, he says.

“As a person who grew up in the Okanagan, in Kelowna, I’d be so proud of our city it we could just get out of this, sooner than later.”

Rob Gibson – Aug 7, 2021 / 4:00 am | Story: 342219

Photo: R F Perera

No wildfire relief in sight in the weather forecast.

“We have been watching very closely for any rainfall, unfortunately, it’s not favourable for the southwest Interior,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Lisa Erven on Friday.

The current weather system is bringing gusting winds across the Thompson-Okanagan and is expected to be followed by another high-pressure system that will see a return to the heat.

“Cooler weather, some showers. The long-range models call for a ridge of high pressure to redevelop over southern B.C. that will see temperatures rise, say for Kamloops we go from high 20’s C to the mid 30’s C by mid-week next week.”

Erven says the wind gusts we’ve been experiencing for the past several days are expected to continue into Saturday before giving way to another system that could bring scattered rain to parts of southern B.C.

“Generally what I’ve seen is trace to 5 mm of rain, which isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing. We’ll take what we can get.”

Erven says there could be heavy localized showers, but in order to turn the wildfire situation around, “we need widespread significant rainfall and that is not what we have on the way.”


Photo: SD23

Several people forced from their homes due to the White Rock Lake Wildfire have gone back to school – literally.

With accommodations across the region strained and the number of evacuees growing, both UBC Okanagan and the Central Okanagan School District have opened their doors to evacuees.

School District 23 Supt. Kevin Kaardel says it’s not unusual for the district to be called upon to offer a cot to those needing accommodations.

Most, he says stay one night while making arrangements for hotels or to stay with family or friends.

According to Kaardal, some evacuees were expected at UBCO Friday night and, if that filled up, the school district would make Kelowna Secondary available.

KSS has typically been the local school utilized in case of an emergency, with KLO serving as a backup or overflow facility.

An Emergency Support Services trailer filled with cots is parked behind KSS.

The school was used earlier in the year for a couple of evacuees from the Brenda Creek Wildfire.

The cots, which had been set up in the school gym have been temporarily removed while the district performs routine yearly maintenance on the floor, but Kaardal says that work will be halted if the need arises.

The evacuation order for properties along Westside Road was expanded earlier in the evening Friday. A map of the evacuation area is available here.

Photo: BCWS

The BC Wildfire Service is tracking two new wildfires east of Big White.

The largest of the two, the Goatskin Creek fire, is estimated to be four hectares in size. A second much smaller fire is nearby at Rendell Creek and is just 0.1 of a hectare.

Both fires are about 12 kilometres east of Big White.

“While this fire is visible from Big White and surrounding areas, it is burning away from populated areas and is not currently threatening structures. At this time, this incident is considered a monitor fire, which means that it will be flown daily by experienced officers to monitor the rate and direction of spread, as well as the fire behaviour,” BCWS said.

“Fire is a natural, normal process in many ecosystems and is necessary to maintain a healthy forest and the diversity of plant and animal life. Many plants and animals have not only adapted to fire but actually depend on it,” the agency continued.

“Naturally occurring fires also help to keep insects and disease under control by killing the pathogens infecting a stand. This is critical given that in recent years more than five times as much timber in B.C. has been lost to insects and disease than has been consumed by wildfire.”

Photo: BCWS

Photo: pixabay

The City of Kelowna has decided against moving to Stage 2 watering restrictions.

Instead, it says it will begin enforcing Stage 1 restrictions, and fining those who ignore the restrictions.

In a news release, water operations manager Andy Weremy says with drought conditions remaining high, compliance of current restrictions is the “best available measure” to delay further restrictions.

“We want to exhaust all available options before we move to Stage 2 restrictions. The move to Stage 2 will affect every city water utility customer and, at this point, we prefer to focus on non-compliance with current restrictions,” said Weremy.

“Most residents follow their watering schedules and we really appreciate that. My sincere thanks to all those people. Our aim is not to give out fines, but we need to see our consumption come down and greater compliance with the current restrictions. We’re making this announcement so everyone has ample warning that enforcement action is coming.”

He says warnings and reminders are left with property owners found irrigating outside their scheduled days, and fines will not be given without an initial warning.

Property owners can be fined $50 for infractions during Stage 1 restrictions, $200 under Stage 2 and $400 during stages 3 and 4.

“We are at a point where our choices today may impact us next year. We had a dry year in 2003 and we were fortunate that 2004 was quite wet and lake levels recovered. There is no guarantee that same thing will happen next year.

“We need to carefully conserve our water resources in case of a multi-year drought cycle. We ask residents to continue following their watering schedules. I encourage those who have not done so in the past to begin following them now.”

Under Stage 1 restrictions, introduced a month ago, addresses ending in odd numbers can water Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and those ending in even numbers are able to water Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Photo: Contributed

The unemployment rate in Kelowna and the Central Okanagan plummeted in July.

The mark fell from 6.3% in June to 5.6% last month, making it tied for the sixth lowest mark in the nation, according to information released by Statistics Canada on Friday.

Kelowna’s labour force, which is all members of a particular population who are able to work, increased by 1,800 in July, while the number of unemployed people fell by 700 people.

The participation rate, which is the number of people working or looking for work, increased by nearly 1,000 people last month.

Kelowna’s employment improvement mirrored that of the entire nation, which added 94,000 jobs last month. The Canadian unemployment rate was 7.5% in July, which was down from 7.8% in June.

The Thompson Okanagan’s unemployment rate, meanwhile, dropped like a rock, going from 6.5% in June to only 5.1% in July.

Canada is still 246,400 jobs, or 1.3%, shy of pre-pandemic employment levels seen in February 2020.

The number of people considered long-term unemployed—those out of work for more than six months—in July was 244,000 higher than before the pandemic and accounted for 27.8% of total unemployment. Of that number, more than two-thirds have been out of work for a year or longer, Statistics Canada said.

CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes believes job gains will be harder to earn in the coming months.

“Gains are likely to slow from here, with many employers reporting labour shortages due to generous government support, concerns about contracting COVID in high-contact work settings, and child-care duties,” he wrote in a note to investors.

However, he also said July’s increase continues the pattern begun with the 231,000 jobs added in June and can be considered a strong gain, making up for employment losses incurred during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

— with files from The Canadian Press

UPDATE: 3:25 p.m.

As transmission of COVID-19 continues to rise rapidly across the Central Okanagan, hospitalizations have begun to follow suit, resulting in more restrictions placed on the region.

During a press conference Friday where Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a number of new restrictions in the region, she noted COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Interior have risen to 31 on Friday, up from 20 on Thursday. Ten Interior residents are being treated in ICU. She said the majority of these cases are at Kelowna General Hospital.

“In general what we’re seeing is underimmunized, so people who’ve only had a single dose, or unimmunized people being hospitalized, but there have [also] been some people who are fully immunized, mostly older people, people over the age of 70,” Dr. Henry said. “And that tells us that as we’re older, we may not mount as strong as an immune response.”

Interior Health’s chief medical health officer Dr. Sue Pollock said more younger people are being hospitalized in the Interior during this fourth wave of the virus.

“We are seeing hospitalization across the different age groups,” Dr. Pollock said. “That is a change from what we saw previously where we tended to see hospitalizations in the older age groups, so it is a bit more spread out now.”

Dr. Henry noted that fully vaccinated people only make up about five per cent of the province’s new cases, while they make up about four per cent of hospitalizations.

But the new restrictions implemented in the Central Okanagan Friday will impact everyone.

“We’re putting in the measures that are addressing those situations where we’re seeing transmission events happening,” Dr. Henry said, noting transmission is largely happening in social settings among younger, unvaccinated people.

In addition to the indoor, public mask mandate implemented in the region last week, the new measures include:

  • Outdoor personal gatherings limited to 50 people
  • Indoor personal gatherings limited to five people, or one other household
  • Indoor seated organized gatherings limited to 50 people, with COVID safety plan
  • Outdoor organized gatherings limited to 50 people, with COVID safety plan
  • Closing nightclubs and liquor-primary bars with no food service
  • Maximum of six people per table at restaurants
  • Liquor service ending at 10 p.m. at restaurants
  • High-intensity indoor group fitness classes suspended
  • Limit of five guests plus the occupants in vacation rentals and house boats
  • Non-essential travel into and out of Central Okanagan strongly discouraged

The new measures on events and gatherings will take effect next Monday, while the rest of the new restrictions will come into effect immediately.

ORIGINAL: 2:20 p.m.

With rapid transmission of COVID-19 continuing across the Central Okanagan, more regional-specific restrictions have been put in place.

During a press conference Friday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced personal indoor gatherings in the Central Okanagan will be restricted to five people, or one other household, while personal outdoor gatherings will be restricted to a maximum of 50 people.

Organized outdoor and indoor gatherings will be limited to a maximum of 50 people, and attendees at these indoor events will need to be seated.

Nightclubs and liquor-primary bars that don’t serve food in the region will be once again closed, while liquor service at restaurants will be cut off at 10 p.m. and a maximum of six people will be allowed at tables.

High-intensity indoor fitness classes in the region will be shut down again. In local vacation rentals, a maximum of five additional visitors will be allowed.

The new measures on gatherings will take effect next Monday, while the rest of the new restrictions will take place immediately.

These restrictions are in addition to the indoor, public mask mandate put in place in the Central Okanagan last week.

Dr. Henry is also encouraging people not to travel in and out of the Central Okanagan for non-essential reasons, although no enforceable travel restrictions have been put in place.

More to come.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Interior Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Sue Pollock are providing an update on the COVID-19 response in the Central Okanagan region.

Rob Gibson – Aug 6, 2021 / 4:00 am | Story: 342124

Rob Gibson

As COVID-19 cases rise in the Okanagan, tempers are also flaring once again.

The owner of Urban Liquor in Kelowna has reached out to Castanet regarding a customer who not only refused to don a mask while in the store but then decided to get belligerent when asked to put one on.

Riki-Lynn Boettcher, owner of two Urban Liquor stores in Kelowna tells Castanet, “I wanted to share this one as this guest was particularly awful.”

Boettcher says the man entered the Urban Liquor store on Gordon Drive on Wednesday and when one of her staff members asked the man to put on a face-covering he refused and said, “to take his vaccines out of his arm if he was required to wear a mask.”

Boettcher says at that point he pulled his shirt up over his mouth but another customer then engaged and suggested, “he could just be courteous and do as requested then he started yelling at her telling her to mind her own and (gave her the finger).”

The man was then refused service and asked to leave the premises, “he started coughing on the guest and the staff and then spat at (her employee) and left the store.”

The conflict continued outside the store as the mask-free patron can be seen continuing to give the middle finger salute to the other patron before getting into a vehicle.

Boettcher says most people are understanding of the mask requirements even if they don’t like it.

“People like this make the issues surrounding COVID even more challenging than it already is and in a labour market where it is nearly impossible to find staff that will work for us, the last thing we need is ignorant people like this harassing our staff.”

Cindy White

Kelowna Pride Society is gearing up for Pride Week in just over a month, and it’s also considering whether rules need to be put in place regarding the participation of politicians in Pride events.

The issue was raised at a town hall last month.

“In the letter to the pride society from the coalition, there were two main highlights. One was guidelines and policies around engaging and interacting with politicians going forward,” said Kelowna pride communications director Bobby Bissessar.

“I personally was on the town hall and that was something that…a view that I shared as well. We would be looking closely at how we engage with politicians, what that actually looks like. It’s still to be determined, but it’s something that we will be looking at closely.”

Another recommendation that came out of the town hall was to advise Kelowna-Lake Country MP Tracy Gray she is “not welcome at this year’s events.” Gray angered members of the local LGBTQ+ community earlier this summer when she was one of 63 MPs to vote against Bill C-6, which would ban conversion therapy.

“In terms of persons being unwelcome, that’s something we haven’t taken a stance on yet and we are to discuss as a board,” said Bissessar.

“What I can say about the letter is it was just highlighting a couple recommendations coming out of the town hall. Yes, of course, they have certain opinions in there as well, but as a society, yeah, it is unfortunate that we did have someone in our community that voted against the conversion therapy ban…but I wouldn’t want to pre-empt any statement or decision by the board.”

Pride Week runs September 10-19 and organizers are prepared to shift quickly if the current COVID-19 outbreak gets worse.

Bissessar notes it is a concern.

“We’re closely monitoring and we will be working closely with Interior Health and following all provincial guidelines. We are able to pivot and be nimble at a moment’s notice, so we do have some backup plans in the works as well. We are currently finalizing our schedule but we will have tentative plans for worst-case scenario, as well.”

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