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Indoor dining and games for outdoor sports teams among things to restart in B.C. today

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks to reporters during a COVID-19 news conference, Nov. 17, 2020.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Province of B.C.
May 25, 2021 - 1:02 PM

The light at the end of the pandemic is nearing, B.C. health officials said today as they announced a plan to ease social restrictions starting immediately.

More than 60% of adults 18 and older in B.C. are vaccinated and new case numbers and hospitalizations have started to decline, meaning B.C. has met the conditions required to embark on the first of a four-step plan aimed at restoring normal life.

Starting today, among other things, there can be indoor dining with liquor service past 10 p.m., fitness classes and the return of games in outdoor sports leagues are allowed. People can also start going back to the office, if they’d transitioned to a work-from-home model of employment, and indoor faith services will return in a limited way within the next few days. Safety and health protocols such as mask-wearing and physical distancing will remain in place for indoor public spaces.

These are all important steps, but July 1, also known as step three, is when the real shift to a more social way of life is expected to return. For one, demand for indoor mask use will be eased. Also at that time, among other things, bingo halls, casinos and nightclubs will open again with some precautions. By Sept. 1 there will be an even greater sense of normalcy, including the return of concerts and recreational travel.

“We have been on a long and tiring journey, and now we can start to chart our path forward to brighter days ahead," provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said today, May 25, speaking with a notably sunnier tone than she had in recent weeks and months. "To be successful in this next phase of the pandemic, we need to keep COVID-19 low and slow... gradually turning up the dial on how we spend time together whether that is socializing with family, going to work or visiting friends.”

While the data will dictate when these steps can be taken, Dr. Henry said she provided a time outline for the sake of some predictability.

“I will say repeatedly, this plan is based on data, not just dates. The dates are the earliest time frame where we can see us move into the next step, as we'll be continuing to work on COVID safety plans,” she said.

As the plan unfolds, business safety plans will be important to every different sector in the economy, and they are what Dr. Henry said has set B.C. apart from other areas. It's why there have been fewer mandated business closures throughout the pandemic, and why schools have been able to remain open.

Public health and WorkSafe B.C. will continue with their joint program to assess COVID-19 safety and numbers within businesses throughout all four steps of the pandemic and beyond.

"It is based on public health assessment of transmission in a workplace, and it is supported by WorkSafe B.C. prevention specialists, who then work with the workplace to make sure they have worker safety plans in place," she said. "It is a partnership with public health that I expect to continue, and certainly we'll be through all four steps of the restart plan, because it's been really helpful in identifying high-risk workplaces."

The success of this program, said Dr. Henry, was shown recently with another poultry producing plant, "which is a very high risk environment."

"Even though a proportion of the workers were immunized, there was still quite a lot of transmission," she said. "So this allows us to work together and we're doing an assessment of those environments, to make sure we can make these changes — whether there's increased ventilation or where the barriers (or) the PPE that the staff are wearing to try and make those riskier environments safer for the workers, overall."

Dr. Henry did say there will be fewer and fewer outbreaks in workplaces as transmission goes down and as the safety plans have been put in place, but the partnership between public health and WorkSafe B.C. will likely go forward, forever.

“British Columbians have sacrificed so much over the last 15 months to help keep people and our communities safe," said Premier John Horgan.

“We have made tremendous strides with our vaccination program, and we are now in a position where we can move forward with a plan to slowly bring us back together. As we have done throughout this pandemic, we will be closely following the guidance of public health and supporting people and businesses as we take the next steps in putting this pandemic behind us."

Horgan also pointed out that COVID-19 is not yet in the rearview mirror, despite the forward-looking view presented today.

More than 1,600 lives were taken, and it disrupted households across the globe for 15 months.

"Dr. Henry will give us the details on how we will manage COVID going forward, but this restart plan, I believe, is appropriate for where we are as a province, and it's appropriate for where we are in terms of our battle with COVID-19," he said.

"For the past 15 months we've been asking you to make sacrifices, we're going to continue to ask you to make sacrifices for a few more weeks, but the light that we've been talking about for weeks and weeks now is at hand. Today we lift the restrictions that were put in place for the circuit breaker, and we look towards mid-June to reduce further restrictions, and then by Canada Day we can look forward to a safe and positive summer for everyone. This is a fantastic day to be in British Columbia."

The four steps are:

Step 1: May 25

  •    60% of adult population with Dose 1
  •    COVID-19 cases stable, hospitalizations stable
  •    Maximum of five visitors or one household allowed for indoor personal gatherings
  •    Maximum of 10 people for outdoor personal gatherings
  •    Maximum of 10 people for seated indoor organized gatherings with safety protocols
  •    Maximum of 50 people for seated outdoor organized gatherings with safety protocols
  •    Recreational travel only within travel region (travel restrictions extended)
  •    Indoor and outdoor dining for up to six people with safety protocols
  •    Resume outdoor sports (games) with no spectators, low-intensity fitness with safety protocols
  •    Start gradual return to workplace
  •    Provincewide mask mandate, business safety protocols and physical distancing  measures remain in place
  •    Return of indoor in-person faith-based gatherings (reduced capacity) based on consultation with public health

Step 2: Mid-June (June 15 earliest date)

  • 65% of adult population with Dose 1
  • Cases declining, COVID-19 hospitalizations declining
  • Maximum of 50 people for outdoor social gatherings?
  • Maximum of 50 people for seated indoor organized gatherings (banquet halls, movie theatres, live theatre) with safety protocols
  • Consultation process to prepare for larger indoor and outdoor gatherings with safety protocols
  • No B.C. travel restrictions check local travel advisories Indoor sports (games) and high-intensity fitness with safety protocols
  • Spectators for outdoor sports (50 maximum)
  • Provincewide mask mandate, business safety protocols and physical distancing measures remain in place

For Step 1 and Step 2, restaurants, bars and pubs, as well as indoor fitness facilities, are to return to the safety protocols that were in place prior to the circuit breaker restrictions.

For other sectors, existing safety protocols remain in place for Step 1 and Step 2, including existing safety protocols at schools and daycares. In Step 1, hotels and other accommodation providers are encouraged to welcome guests from inside their region. In Step 2, the invitation can be extended to guests from throughout the province.

Step 3: Early July (July 1 earliest date)

  • 70% of adult population with Dose 1
  • Cases low, COVID-19 hospitalizations declining
  • Provincial state of emergency and public health emergency lifted
  • Returning to usual for indoor and outdoor personal gatherings
  • Increased capacity for indoor and outdoor organized gatherings, with safety plans
  • Nightclubs and casinos reopened with capacity limits and safety plans
  • New public health and workplace guidance around personal protective equipment, ?physical distancing and business protocols

Step 4: Early September (Sept. 7 earliest date)

  •  More than 70% of adult population with Dose 1
  •  Cases low and stable (contained clusters), COVID-19 hospitalizations low
  • Returning to normal social contact
  • Increased capacity at larger organized gatherings
  • No limits on indoor and outdoor spectators at sports
  • Businesses operating with new safety plans

Prior to steps 3 and 4, sector associations will work with public health and WorkSafeBC to update sector guidelines to meet updated public health guidance.
All updated workplace safety plans should be ready by July 1 prior to shifting into Step 3. These plans will be based on updated sector guidelines.

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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