COVID-19 in B.C.: British Columbia unveils four-step plan for reopening province

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      B.C. offered light at the end of the pandemic tunnel by revealing how the province will work towards returning to life before COVID-19 changed the world.

      The province finally announced its long-awaited four-step reopening plan that is based on guidance from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

      B.C. Premier John Horgan, Economic Recovery Minister Ravi Kahlon, Health Minister Adrian Dix, and Henry announced the details at a news conference today.

      "This is indeed a good day and one that I've been waiting for, for a long time, as I'm sure many people in British Columbia have too," Henry said. 

      She explained that what will help the province emerge from the pandemic are vaccinations. The first vaccinations took place on December 15 and all longterm care residents and staff were immunized by the end of February, which have helped to reduce the number of outbreaks.

      "A pandemic happens when we have transmission of a virus to people who are susceptible across society," she explained. "Now that we have vaccines that are safe and effective, we know that we can control it now in a way that we couldn't even a few months ago."

      Throughout the reopening process, B.C. will be monitoring the number of adults vaccinated, case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths, as well as clusters and outbreaks, in B.C. In addition, what is happening around the world will also be considered.

      Consequently, the plans will run according to data, rather than dates, and won’t advance unless it is safe to do so. As Henry had explained at previous briefings, the process will be slow and gradual, and not everything will reopen all at once.

      "We want people to continue to use their common sense," Horgan stated, "not just in terms of where you travel and how you act but also being guided by what your impact could be, not just on yourself and your family, but others in the community."

      Kahlon announced that, as of today, most businesses can resume operations with safety plans in place.

      That means that, starting today, indoor dining can resume at restaurants, bars, and breweries. Kahlon said that people can now dine indoors with up to six of their friends.

      By Step 2 (June), banquet halls will be permitted to reopen with safety plans in place. In addition, alcohol-serving restrictions will be lifted, allowing alcohol to be served until midnight.

      By Step 3 (July), casinos, bingo halls, and nightclubs will be permitted to reopen with limited capacities and safety plans.

      By September, Henry said we may be able to have social contact like we had before the pandemic.

      Organized gatherings will follow a different progression. By June, theatres and cinemas may be able to reopen; fairs and festivals may be held from July onward; and by September, we may see large organized gatherings resume, including live concerts. 

      B.C. Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery, and Innovation
      Province of British Columbia

      The step-by-step plan will follow approximate timelines and will ease people and businesses slowly out of the pandemic. Step 1 begins today, with the lifting of the current circuit-breaker restrictions.

      The four steps are:

      Step 1: May 25

      • 60 percent of adult population with dose 1;
      • indoor personal gatherings: maximum of five visitors or one household allowed;
      • outdoor personal gatherings: maximum of 10 people;
      • seated indoor organized gatherings with safety protocols: maximum of 10 people;
      • seated outdoor organized gatherings with safety protocols: maximum of 50 people;
      • recreational travel only within your travel region (Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley; Vancouver Island; Interior and Northern) while travel restrictions are extended;
      • indoor and outdoor dining: up to six people with safety protocols;
      • outdoor sports (games) without spectators and low-intensity fitness classes with safety protocols can resume;
      • gradual return to workplaces can begin;
      • provincewide mask mandate, business safety protocols, and physical distancing measures remain in place;
      • indoor in-person faith-based gatherings, with reduced capacity and based on consultation with public health, can resume.
      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix
      Province of British Columbia

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

      • a minimum of 65 percent of adult population to have received first dose;
      • outdoor social gatherings: maximum of 50 people;
      • seated indoor organized gatherings (banquet halls, movie theatres, live theatre) with safety protocols: maximum of 50 people;
      • 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 can resume with safety protocols;
      • spectators for outdoor sports can resume, with a maximum of 50 people;
      • provincewide mask mandate, business safety protocols and physical distancing measures remain in place.
      B.C. Premier John Horgan
      Province of British Columbia

      Step 3: Early July (earliest date is July 1)

      • 70 percent of adult population with first dose;
      • provincial state of emergency and public health emergency lifted;
      • indoor and outdoor personal gatherings can return to normal;
      • increased capacity for indoor and outdoor organized gatherings, with safety plans;
      • nightclubs and casinos can reopen with capacity limits and safety plans;
      • new public health and workplace guidance for personal protective equipment, physical distancing, and business protocols will be issued—masks will be recommended.
      B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonne Henry, with Premier John Horgan
      Province of British Columbia

      Step 4: Early September (earliest date is September 7)

      • over 70 percent of adult population estimated to have received first dose;
      • normal social contact will be able to resume;
      • increased capacity at larger organized gatherings;
      • all limits lifted on indoor and outdoor spectators at sports;
      • businesses will operate with new safety plans;
      • some precautions during respiratory season may be required;
      • masks will become a personal choice.
      Province of British Columbia

      Further details

      For Step 1 and Step 2, restaurants, bars, and pubs, and indoor fitness facilities will use existing safety protocols that were in place before the-circuit breaker restrictions.

      For other sectors, existing safety protocols remain in place for Step 1 and Step 2, including schools and daycares.

      In Step 1, hotels and other accommodations are encouraged to accept guests from inside their region. In Step 2, those businesses can receive guests from throughout B.C. Provincial travel restrictions will continue to be enforced until Step 2. Although travel will resume in various stages, Henry reminded everyone that there will remain some communities that may not be prepared to welcome others at the same pace as other locations. 

      Canadian recreational travel may possibly resume by July but international travel remains uncertain as it will be dependent upon what is happening globally. 

      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, based on updated sector guidelines, should be ready by July 1 prior to starting Step 3.

      In-class K-12 education will continue to operate under existing safety protocols for Steps 1 and 2. In preparation for classes in the autumn, the COVID-19 education steering committee and public health officials will update safety guidelines.

      Full details are available at the B.C. Restart website.

      The provincial state of emergency, which was originally declared on March 18, 2020, is being extended to June 8.