VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – British Columbians will soon be able to visit with more people and travel beyond their health zones as they please as the province enters the second stage of its restart plan Tuesday.
The next phase includes easing restrictions around gathering sizes and a lifting of travel restrictions. The province continues to advise against all non-essential travel from out of province.
Starting Tuesday, social gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed outdoors, while gatherings of the same size will be permitted for seated, indoor, organized events, such as at movie theatres and banquet halls, with safety protocols.
“The outdoor number remains the same for organized gatherings, but you no longer have to be seated so it has more flexibility to have a small wedding outside, for example,” explained Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Monday.
The province continues to recommend gatherings at homes remain small, adding we should continue to stick to one household or up to five people when getting together with others indoors.
The current measures restricting most non-essential travel between health regions will also be scaled back, with people asked to check local advisories.
“This means we can go visit family or friends across B.C. and stay for a while, and visit in those communities,” Henry added.
B.C.’s four-step plan, which ends with everything pretty much as we knew it by as early as September, is heavily dependent on COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations declining, as well as vaccination rates continuing to trend up.
To date, over 75 per cent of eligible adults in B.C. have had at least a dose of a vaccine against COVID-19. That is well past the prerequisite for the second stage earlier laid out by the province, which was 65 per cent.
“We have built in a two-week … window time or lag between stages that allows us to monitor our progress and ensure we’re able to confidently move forward, safely,” said Henry. “Our progress so far, like the entire pandemic, is a shared effort between public health, businesses, and every individual here in British Columbia.”
She noted there’s much to be proud of, pointing to declining case numbers, clusters, and hospitalizations.
Meanwhile, as part of phase two, restaurants, bars, pubs, and other eateries will be allowed to serve liquor up to midnight.
Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon says the province is and has been working with businesses and industry groups to help them prepare for the next phases of the reopening plan.
“And we’ll continue to do that for step three,” he said. “Their input has been critical as we work together to gradually reopen the province safely and carefully. Over the last 16 months, we have seen businesses innovate and adapt. They have quickly adjusted their operations multiple times over this pandemic continues to show us there are lessons to be learned.”
Henry says work is underway to help businesses transition to new measures in the weeks and months ahead.
“As well, for workplaces, public health is working with WorkSafeBC and we’re going to be transitioning from those COVID safety plans that we’ve been relying on to providing guidance for employers for communicable disease safety plans that you can use to develop site-specific plans as we move away from the need to focus on COVID-19 along,” Henry said, adding these will be “ready before we move to the next phase, hopefully on July 1.”
The province’s mask mandate, business safety protocols, and physical distancing measures are to remain in place for this phase of the restart plan.
The consultation process to prepare for larger indoor and outdoor gatherings with safety protocols is set to get underway, with the return to such events possible as early as July 1.
Indoor sports (games) and high-intensity fitness will be allowed to resume as of Tuesday, with safety protocols, and spectators will be allowed back for outdoor sports, with a cap at 50 people.
British Columbia ready to put COVID-19 behind
With the easing of restrictions comes some concern from health officials, and even anxiety from British Columbians.
Premier John Horgan acknowledged the sacrifices most people in B.C. have made over the past 15 months.
“We’ve had some ups and we’ve had some downs, there have been some bumps along the way to be sure, and many, many people have made extraordinary sacrifices,” said Horgan. “But I want to be clear: we want to put the pandemic behind us, we want to make sure we take those tentative steps in a way that brings everybody along. British Columbians are anxious to put COVID behind us, but there are still people that are anxious about reopening.”
Horgan is assuring people the province has been “following the data” and science from the start.
He continues to urge people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and to do their part to continue reducing transmission of the virus.
“We’re on track to meet all of our milestones to the restart plan,” Horgan said. “I know many people are excited about that, and I understand [there are] those that are anxious. But together we can get to a place where British Columbia can lead the country in economic revival, can continue to be a place where we don’t just flick a switch, but we slowly turn the dial back to a normal place for all of us to be as the summer progresses.”
Henry echoes these comments, saying how we move through this pandemic is due to a shared effort.
“This means respecting that those around you may not be moving at the same pace as you. That some people and some communities may not yet be ready to receive visitors or to have gatherings,” she said.
She urges British Columbians to also be patient with workers and businesses as they try to navigate these difficult times.