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B.C. loosening social distancing measures in move towards new normal

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at a news conference in Victoria about the province's plan for loosening social distancing restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Image Credit: YOUTUBE / Province of B.C.

By mid-May you will get to carefully “double your bubble.”

Social distancing restrictions will likely be  starting to loosen from the current 30 per cent to 60 per cent by May 19, and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said, among other things, that means gatherings can start to grow slowly and thoughtfully.

"You need to understand the risk in your family," Dr. Henry said. "Spread your circle, but be very aware and be very careful but you may have to do it in small steps right now."

The change is triggered by B.C. flattening the curve, Premier John Horgan said in a press conference today, May 6 — a day that saw the number of COVID-19 cases provincewide rise by 23 to 2,255 cases.

Image Credit: SUBMITTED/BC government

“The collective effort and sacrifice (across B.C. means) we've been able to flatten the curve and save thousands of lives,” Horgan said.

That means B.C. is nearly in a safe place to restart the economy.

“It won't be the flipping of a switch. We're going to be proceeding carefully, bit by bit, one step at a time,” he said, noting later that provincial parks will open May 14 while specific businesses that have an approved plan will start to open May 19.

“Every step will be informed by the advice of the provincial health officer, as well as the input from British Columbians in every corner of this province. We need to ensure that people stay healthy and that British Columbians can move forward confidently as we proceed to the other side of the new normal.”

Horgan said that at some point after May 19, under enhanced protocols, elective surgeries will be rescheduled, dentistry, physiotherapy, registered massage therapy, chiropractors, physical therapy, speech therapy and the like can open.

Phase 1.
Phase 1.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/BC government

The retail landscape will also bloom in May with hair salons, barbers and other personal service establishments able to open. 

Restaurants, cafes, pubs — with sufficient distancing measures — museums, art galleries, libraries and office-based worksites will also open again. Expect to see parks, beaches and outdoor spaces open in mid-May, too.

Assuming that virus transition rates stay low throughout the weeks that follow, the opening of hotels and resorts, more parks and some overnight campsites, and the film industry is scheduled for June.

In July, assuming all has gone well, movies and symphonies — not large concerts — are expected to resume.

Post-secondary education – with a mix of online and in-class — and Kindergarten to Grade 12 education will get underway with new precautions in September.

"It's not just about reading writing and arithmetic... school is a place for young people and they want to get back to it but we want to make sure that it's done safely and we don't want anyone feel they are obliged to," Horgn said. "We want to see we can do a dry run from the beginning of June to the end of June."

Phase 2
Phase 2
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/BC government

The timing of a safe restart of night clubs, casinos and bars is a more complicated consideration. As with other sectors, industry associations will be expected to develop safe operations plans, for review, that are in keeping with Public Health and Safety Guidelines, as well as WorkSafeBC.

While plans for how B.C. reopens are coming together, Horgan acknowledged that there are mixed feelings in the province.

“Some people are afraid of opening up and I understand that they're not certain what it means for their loved ones and for their communities,” Horgan said.

“We're here to reassure you that we're going to do everything we can to help. We're going to do everything we can to keep you safe. B.C.’s restart plan is informed by health experts, common sense and practical decision making. We will not move ahead, unless it's safe to do so.“

Horgan said the success of these plans depends on a number of factors to succeed and will require, large scale testing, rapid identification and contact tracing.

A 100 per cent commitment to physical distancing hand washing and following the orders and guidance of Dr. Henry and B.C. health officials, will be required to increase safe contacts.

“We're going to need to hold the line on borders, including mandatory quarantine for returning travellers,” he said. “We're going to need to build up our health care system and work to make sure that we are resilient in the event of a further outbreak.”

"We're going to need to maintain zero tolerance for illness in the workplace. If you're sick, you must stay home," he said.

“We need to come together as a community, and as a province. Businesses cannot succeed unless we decide to support them. The only way they will survive, is that people have confidence when they walk through their doors that they will be well and that business will be well,” Horgan said.

“At the same time, every part of our province must be included. We have to make sure everyone is supported, and that we move through this pandemic to the restart and the recovery.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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