B.C. Premier John Horgan and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry held a news conference today to present details of the third phase of the province's restart plan, which will include the relaunch of several industries in time for the summer season.
Phase 3 begins
Unlike the introduction of Phase 2, which had much forewarning and an advance news conference, the B.C. government announced that today (June 24) marks the start of Phase 3 of the province’s reopening plan.
At a news conference from Victoria, Premier Horgan explained that Phase 3 will include the reopening of hotels and resorts, parks, film and TV industries, and entertainment venues like movie theatres.
However, Horgan also pointed out that it will be a gradual process and that health measures still need to be maintained at this stage of the pandemic.
“This is not a return to normal,” Horgan emphasized, reminding people that they need to continue health precautions such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, wearing masks, and remaining at home if sick.
Similarly, Dr. Henry also stated that the province is not reverting to “pre-COVID normal” and the need to continue being careful remains important.
Nonetheless, Horgan repeatedly commended British Columbians for their cooperation and hard work in producing the best results in Canada for a province of this size.
Because of numerous spikes in states south of British Columbia, Horgan said he will continue to work with the federal government to ensure that the Canada–U.S. border remains closed to nonessential travel.
“When I look south, I see chaos, I see exponential increases in case loads in states that are here on the West Coast as well as those inland, and so I’m confident that British Columbians are prepared and ready to act responsibly,” he said.
He also said that the provincial government has once again extended state of emergency to July 7, the eighth time it has done so.
Horgan also denied that any political or economic pressures influenced their decision-making about reopening industries.
“Everything is about risk and risk management,” he said. “It’s not about going too far—it’s about going safely to a place that British Columbians are comfortable with.”
Dr. Henry backed him up by stating that she recognizes the importance of reopening parts of the province.
“We are at the point where we need social interaction, we need to be able to have our economic engines going,” Dr. Henry stated. “We would not be making these recommendations if we weren’t confident that we had put in place the measures that we need to do.”
In a modelling update on June 23, Dr. Henry said British Columbians need to maintain their social contacts at the current level (or 65 percent of normal contacts) so that the province can manage the pandemic effectively.
“We have found a balance of increasing our contacts and doing it in a way that’s safe, so that’s why we need to continue to focus on that,” she said. “We need to keep this balance for the coming months until we have an effective vaccine or treatment.”
She said this is the not summer for large gatherings and reiterated that all health measures need to be continually practised to protect vulnerable populations, including elders and those with health issues.
Travel in B.C.
Horgan and Dr. Henry asked British Columbians who are hoping to travel to make thorough plans before leaving, including finding out which destinations are prepared to receive visitors, learning about what is open and what remains closed in the destination community, and taking provisions if needed to alleviate demand on local resources.
“There are communities around British Columbia that are still quite concerned about travellers coming to visit,” Horgan said, such as First Nations in Haida Gwaii, Bella Bella, and Bella Coola, and on Vancouver Island. (Horgan said several B.C. ministers will provide information for communities reluctant to receive visitors to First Nations about how the province will proceed.)
In previous phases, B.C. told those in Alberta and the Yukon not into travel to B.C. unless necessary. While the emphasis remains on travelling within provinces, Horgan asked any Canadian visitors to be respectful of the conditions in the province.
“Now that we’re moving into Phase 3, our message to them would be slightly amended to say ‘Certainly, if you’re coming to British Columbia, be mindful of what British Columbians have done together to get us to a position where we can welcome people from other parts of the country’,” he said.
Daily B.C. COVID-19 update
Instead of holding a news briefing in person, Dr. Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix (who was not present at the Phase 3 news conference) issued a news release to provide today’s daily B.C. COVID-19 update.
Today (June 24), they confirmed 14 new cases in the province. Accordingly, the cumulative provincial total is now at 2,849 cases. So far, there have been 963 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 1,491 in Fraser Health, 131 in Island Health, 199 in Interior Health, and 65 in Northern Health.
Of those cases, 162 are currently active. There are 14 people in hospitals (seven of whom are in intensive-care units), and 2,516 people who have now recovered from COVID-19.
Once again, there aren’t any new health-care or community outbreaks, leaving six outbreaks active at long-term care or assisted living facilities, and one active outbreak in an acute-care facility.
The workplace outbreak at Maersk Distribution in Delta has now been declared over, while two community outbreaks remain active.
Unfortunately, like yesterday, there has been one new death (in the Vancouver Coastal Health region), raising the total fatalities during the pandemic to 171.