VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — More students in classrooms, the re-opening of non-essential businesses, sports camps, and even allowing small gatherings are all part of the province’s, four-phase plan to gradually reopen B.C. during the COVID-19 pandemic
Premier John Horgan outlined the B.C. COVID-19 Go-Forward Strategy on Wednesday, saying the province is already in the first phase.
“Restrictions of large gatherings are here to stay,” Horgan said. “Groups larger than 50 give the virus an opportunity to re-emerge.”
As part of the second phase, retail businesses and non-essential services will be allowed to open with some restrictions by mid-May. Those businesses and services include elective surgeries and other medical-related services such as dentists, physiotherapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, and in-person counselling.
Hair salons, barbers, restaurants, cafes, and pubs are also part of the second phase, as are museums, art galleries, libraries, office-based worksites, recreational sports, parks, beaches and outdoor spaces, and transit services.
— LizaYuzda (@LizaYuzda) May 6, 2020
Horgan added provincial parks will open for day use on May 14.
“Our expectation is that the restart plan will kick in on the 19th of May, which is the Tuesday after the long weekend,” he said “So, I think, that we wanted to make sure that people had a starting point to start preparing. People have been doing that. We’ve now given a plan we understand how we’re going to operate.”
As for faith-based gatherings, Horgan said often worship involves more than 50 people people, and the province is encouraging safe distancing.
“It’s about common sense,” Horgan said, adding he stands by the decision to limit gathering sizes. “You could have 49 people gather safely for religious purposes.”
High-school graduation ceremonies, in person, will also have to wait.
“For those that are graduating in 2020 and will not be having a ceremony, I regret that very much,” Horgan said. “I hope that there will be ways that we can mark this milestone in the dates ahead. And maybe next year we can have that party that you deserve, after completing your grade 12 education.”
Horgan said how and when the next phases of the plan are implemented depends on how well the province operates collectively, adding international travel could be months away. Travel within Canada might resume later in the summer.
“We’re going to need to hold the line on borders, including mandatory quarantine for returning travelers, and a limit on non-essential travel.”
The government’s plan says the pandemic will be over when the proportion of the population that is immune is large enough transmission between people is no longer sustained. That includes after enough people who have been infected recover and develop potential antibodies, or a vaccine is developed.
You can soon get a haircut, go shopping or grab a bite to eat at a restaurant or pub. Here's a snapshot of the BC government's plans to re-open the economy. This is based on keeping new #COVID19 case numbers low. pic.twitter.com/DkGpxhKBTZ
— Sonia Aslam (@SoniaSAslam) May 6, 2020
The goal of the restrictions remains to slow the spread of COVID-19, to protect the most vulnerable, and ensure the health-care system can respond to increased demand, if needed.
“We’re going to need to build up our healthcare system and work to make sure that we are resilient in the event of a further outbreak,” Horgan said.
Health and safety measures introduced in B.C. previously included physical distancing and hygiene guidelines, banning mass gatherings of more than 50 people, as well as closing bars, restaurants and personal service establishments, and reducing in-classroom learning and childcare.
Re: churches and other places of worship, @jjhorgan says faith leaders support physical distancing and he defends ongoing orders for no gatherings larger than 50 people. Premier says it’s about common sense. You could have 49 people gather safely for religious purposes. #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/GNHabm4mhO
— Marcella Bernardo (@Bernardo1130) May 6, 2020
The province also required returning travellers to self-isolate for 14 days, while restricting visitors in healthcare and assisted-living facilities, and postponing elective surgeries.
The next step for B.C., according to the plan, is to continue to suppress transmission of the virus and protect the health care system, while getting people back to work to help rebuild the economy and social connections.
Earlier in the week, new modelling projections suggested social interactions could double from current levels, from 30 per cent of normal, without compromising the health care system.
“This presents opportunities we need to improve economic, social and personal well-being for citizens,” says the plan.
It says increasing social interactions to 60 per cent of normal is expected to remain in place for 12 to 18 months.
“We can continue to refine and tweak the balance of actions based on closely monitoring transmission rates.”
New cases could almost be eliminated by July if current restrictions are maintained, according to projections from the province released Tuesday.
Q long weekend – what is essential travel? Can you go visit family, your second home?@jjhorgan – if you don't need to travel don't. The 3rd phase that BC will be in his summer is better time for that to protect health care system in small communities.#bcpoli @news1130 #covid19
— LizaYuzda (@LizaYuzda) May 6, 2020
To reduce transmission, the province recommends safe practices and guidelines for organizations, institutions and businesses, in addition to good hygiene and managing social interactions.
“No handshaking,” is one of the core personal care guidelines, as are washing hands, covering coughs, and physical distancing.
“Maintain regular social contact with extended family or small groups of friends — but only in small groups (2-6 guests), while maintaining a safe physical distance,” says the plan.
As for workplaces, guidelines include requiring clear policies to ensure people don’t come to work with any symptoms, including coughing and sneezing.
“And we’re going to need to maintain zero tolerance for illness in the workplace,” Horgan said “If you’re sick, you must stay home.”
The province also encourages more working from home or staggered shifts, smaller groups and forgoing in-person meetings in workplaces to reduce contacts,
As for retail stores, the province’s plan suggests continued efforts to reduce lines-ups and putting Plexiglass barriers in place to reduce contact, further, as well as more on-line and delivery services and wearing non-medical masks in places of business.
For hair salons, barbers, and other personal service establishments, the province recommends requiring appointments, use of medical masks and more Plexi-glass barriers, as well as eliminating waiting areas.
For childcare operators, symptom screening will be required, as will frequent cleaning.
Schools are part of the third phase, with a goal to reopen those at elementary and secondary grades partially by September. Post-secondary schools are to also return in September with a mix of online and in-person classes.
For public schools, smaller class sizes and more space between desks will be required, along with alternating attendance, daily screening of staff and students wearing non-medical masks for extra-curricular activities, including sports.
Isolation is also recommended for arriving international students.
Re: schools and organized sports, nothing changing before May long weekend and @jjhorgan repeats no one will be forced to return before September, but some classes can resume before June and some professional sports can happen with no fans in stands. #COVID19 #bcpoli @NEWS1130
— Marcella Bernardo (@Bernardo1130) May 6, 2020
With regards to sports, those that are low-contact, especially those outdoors, are considered safer, according to the province.
“Identify high-contact sports that should not take place during the pandemic,” reads the report.
The plans also says testing will remain and important part of the management strategy going forward.
The third phase of the plan, if transmission remains low, includes reopening other sectors by June or July. Those include hotels and resorts, spas and non-medical massage, the film industry and movies, as well as schools.
As for additional businesses and services, WorkSafe BC will work with industry associations to ensure they meet provincial regulations before restarting. Employers are also expected to engage workers to develop solutions.
Night clubs, bars and casinos fall into this phase, as do large concerts and conventions. Professional sports will not have audiences.
Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 10.
“If my mom was here, I’d want to hug her on Mother’s Day, but these are choices that you have to make,” Horgan said.
He said doing so depends if people are healthy or not and how well they’ve been following health and safety recommendations.
“Mother’s Day is coming. Act responsibly. Be comfortable with your family. Keep the gatherings low and use your common sense,” Horgan added.
If your social circle has been tight, “I welcome you to hug your mom.”