VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – B.C. is easing more COVID-19 restrictions Thursday, meaning masks will no longer be mandatory in indoor, public spaces. Masks will still be recommended in those spaces for people aged 12 and older who are not yet fully vaccinated.
Premier John Horgan and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry have confirmed B.C. will move into step three of its restart plan on July 1. That means you will once again be able to dine in large groups at restaurants, bars, and pubs. Table sizes will be determined by the venue and liquor service will return to normal. However, people will still not be able to move between tables.
Thursday will also see a return to usual indoor and outdoor personal gatherings. Organized indoor gatherings (including weddings) of 50 people or up to 50 per cent capacity (whichever is greater) will be allowed.
“So if your venue is one that holds a capacity of 60 people, then you can have 50. If it’s a venue that has 500 people, then 50 per cent capacity would be 250,” Henry explained.
Outdoor organized gatherings of 5,000 people or up to 50 per cent capacity (whichever is greater) will also be permitted.
“If your venue can hold up to 5,000 people, you can have 100 per cent capacity. Above 5,000 people, that capacity will be 50 per cent,” Henry said.
Fairs, festivals, and trade shows will be able to take place with safety plans. Religious services will be able to take place as normal.
Nightclubs will be allowed to open, with no dancing allowed. Only 10 people will be permitted to sit together at a time, with no moving between tables.
Casinos will be allowed to open with reduced capacity and only about half of gaming stations will be open. Barriers and masks will be recommended.
When it comes to masks, Henry says the shift away from a mandate on wearing them in indoor public spaces does not mean they are no longer important.
“Mask-wearing will be recommended in all indoor, public spaces for all people 12 and over who are not yet fully immunized,” she explained.
“Some people may also continue to choose to wear masks, and that’s okay. We need to remember that we all need to go on our own pace. And there are some reasons why we may be feel more at risk, or it may be important for us to continue to protect ourselves using masks. The face coverings order under the Emergency Programs Act will be lifted, and … there’s no need for people to provide proof of vaccination. We know that most people in British Columbia are doing the right thing and we expect that we’ll continue.”
On Thursday, B.C. will also start welcoming people from other provinces to visit.
“Preferably vaccinated people,” Henry said, asking visitors to be respectful of the communities they go to.
“We recognize that you’re bringing risk with you and we know that as more people are coming into British Columbia, there are a chance that people will come with this virus, and they may come with different strains or variants of the virus. So we need to have some measures in place to be able to detect people [with the virus]. We know we have a strategy now, where we will be testing everyone so we know exactly what strains are circulating,” she said.
She urges visitors plan ahead, do research before arriving at their destination, and respect those local travel advisories.
“Not every community has received two doses of vaccine for all of their members yet. And not every community is ready yet to receive visitors. But many are,” Henry noted.
This phase of the plan also means an end to the provincial state of emergency and public health emergency, both of which were introduced in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold across the country.
She asks British Columbians to be patient and respectful that, despite the change in public health orders and guidance, people will have different levels of comfort. She notes the same goes for businesses and workplaces.
“So, masks may be required in many facilities and many stores, for example. On transit, in the short-term. We know that only 30 per cent of adults in B.C., have received two doses of vaccine. So as that goes up over the next few weeks, we may be seeing less people wearing masks. But right now, we still will expect most people to be wearing masks in those indoor settings when we’re around other people.”
When the province announced the four-step plan, the metrics it gave for entering step three were described as at least 70 per cent adults having received at least one dose of vaccine, cases low, and COVID hospitalizations declining.
On Tuesday, B.C. recorded just 29 new cases of COVID-19 and zero deaths.
There are 110 people hospitalized with the illness, up from 107 on Monday. Thirty-four of those patients are in the ICU, down from 37 the day before.
The province says 78.3 per cent of adults and 77 per cent of those aged 12 and up have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. It also says 31.6 per cent of adults and 29.5 per cent of those 12 and up have been fully vaccinated.
There have been 55,086 doses administered in the past day, 48,270 of which were second doses.
If all goes to plan, B.C. could return to near life as we knew it before COVID-19 in early September.
With files from Hana Mae Nassar and Claire Fenton