COVID-19 in B.C.: British Columbia unveils four phases of plan to reopen province

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      B.C. Premier John Horgan, accompanied by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix, unveiled the long-awaited plan for reopening the province in various stages.

      As Dix pointed out yesterday (May 5), the province’s reopening plan will look different from those of other provinces, as many businesses that were shut down in other provinces have remained open in B.C.

      Horgan pointed out that B.C. has allowed essential services, construction, agriculture, manufacturing, silviculture, and other industries to continue to operate under safe measures “at reduced pace”.

      However, Horgan said it’s not yet time to get back to things as they were before the pandemic, and that the government has been cautious about announcing these plans in order to avoid making people too eager to resume previous activities or conduct.

      “What people are saying to me is that they’re anxious to get to that next phase, but they’re also anxious to not give up the ground that we’ve made,” he said. “Although we’ve been working on it for a month and a half, we’ve resisted announcing this plan because oftentimes that’s the trigger. People go, ‘Oh, good. Horgan just said it’s time to get back to normal.’ I’m not saying that. I’m saying we have a plan to move toward what will be the new normal and we’re going to be taking guidance along the way from British Columbians.”

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and B.C. Premier John Horgan
      Province of British Columbia

      Phase 2: Social activities, schools, businesses, and parks

      In light of Dr. Henry's May 4 statement that the province is approaching the end of the beginning phase of the pandemic, Horgan said that in the second phase, which he noted will commence May 19, some social activities will be allowed to resume.

      “In this next phase, we must continue to maintain a very high standard of personal conduct,” he said.

      In addition to using common sense, he said, British Columbians should focus on five main areas on a daily basis: personal hygiene, environmental hygiene, physical modifications, safe social interactions, and staying at home if sick.

      With an emphasis on maintaining social distancing and small group sizes, Horgan said that small social gatherings will be permitted, though he didn’t specify numbers.

      As examples, he said possibilities include grandchildren visiting grandparents or playdates with some children, all with safe social distancing and with low numbers of individuals involved.

      Horgan said that restrictions on large gatherings “are here to stay” throughout the pandemic.

      “Groups larger than 50 give the virus an opportunity to reemerge, and no matter how far apart you are, larger gatherings will not be allowed,” he said.

      Elective surgeries will resume, as will regulated health services, including physiotherapy, chiropractic services, dentistry, and in-person counselling.

      B.C. parks will reopen for day use on May 14, provided health guidelines are followed.

      Regarding travel, Horgan asked British Columbians to remain close to home, and to avoid travelling long distances, such as for road trips or hikes.

      Sectors that were ordered closed will have to work with WorkSafeBC on plans for safe reopening in the second phase.

      If they're in compliance with public-health-officer orders and WorkSafeBC guidelines, nonessential retail businesses and offices, including hair salons, restaurants, and pubs, will be allowed to reopen.

      WorkSafeBC will provide industry-specific guidance for employers.

      The B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association and the B.C. Recreation and Parks Association have been working on plans for reopening businesses and restarting programs. 

      In addition, in-person school for kindergarten to Grade 12 (which has been open for children of parents who are essential workers) will reopen, but attendance will be voluntary.

      Horgan said they are preparing for the resumption of full, in-person school to begin in September.

      While he noted that the public transit system has experienced an 80 to 85 percent decline in ridership, more information, including safety measures, will be announced in the near future.

      Horgan added that the B.C. Legislature will resume in the coming weeks, but did not specify a date.

      Phase 3 and 4: Film and TV, personal services, and vaccinations

      Horgan said that opening more businesses and spaces will depend on the conditions of the pandemic.

      If transmission rates remain low or are in decline, Phase 3 is anticipated to begin between June and September. 

      Within this third phase, more parks will open and camping will resume.

      More businesses could potentially reopen under strict safety protocols, Horgan said.

      This phase could include the resumption of film and TV productions, the reopening of movie theatres, and the reopening of personal services, such as spas and hotels.

      Horgan said the third phase might include permitting people to travel to their vacation or seasonal properties within the province.

      “But again, you also have to acknowledge and recognize that the permanent residents in those areas may not have access to acute-care facilities, [and] may be concerned that the spread of the virus in their community is something that they want to avoid,” he said.

      Phase 4 would only begin under specific conditions, which include the development of a vaccine and widespread vaccination, the implementation of effective treatments, and evidence of community immunity.

      “Until these things happen, B.C. will not be hosting rock concerts and conventions, or any other large gatherings beyond 50 people,” he said.

      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry
      Province of British Columbia

      Progressing through phases

      To succeed in advancing through these phases, Horgan said, B.C. will need to maintain several measures, including:

      • strong health controls (large-scale testing, rapid identification, contact tracing, and isolation of confirmed cases);
      • commitment to safety orders and guidelines, including hand-washing and physical distancing;
      • maintaining border restrictions;
      • preparing health-care system for any potential future outbreaks;
      • zero tolerance for illness in the workplace.

      Regarding employees remaining at home when sick, Horgan cited how Dr. Henry and Dix had previously spoken about how the outbreaks at poultry-processing plants in Metro Vancouver were the result of people attending work while ill.

      “We do not want to be starting and stopping, and starting and stopping,” Dr. Henry said.

      She noted that they remain uncertain whether there will be a resurgence in the autumn, during the influenza and respiratory virus season.

      “The plan, and the thoughtfulness and the purpose that we have, is to make sure that we can get through at least until the fall and we see what happens,” she said.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.