People are seen walking along the seawall in English Bay in Vancouver, Monday, May 4, 2020. (Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

British Columbia unveils plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions

Starting in mid-May, British Columbians will be able to do things many Canadians in the rest of the country have been dreaming about since mid-March, when lockdown measures introduced by various levels of government to fight the COVID-19 pandemic upended their lives.

Under the plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions unveiled by the provincial government on Wednesday, residents of British Columbia will be able to host parties with up to six friends, get a professional haircut or throw a frisbee on the beach or in a park.

Beginning next week, B.C., which was one of the first and hardest hit provinces but has managed to flatten the pandemic curve, will start to gradually reopen bars and restaurants, museums and libraries, parks and beaches, albeit with strict physical distancing and other public health measures.

Crucially the province also plans to reopen non-essential medical and health services offered by dentists, physiotherapists, chiropractors and massage therapists.

For that to happen, however, B.C. will have to stay on its current trajectory, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said. That means the rate of new infections and hospitalizations will have to remain low.

‘Proceeding carefully bit by bit’

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix look on as Premier John Horgan discusses reopening the province’s economy in phases in response to the COVID-19 pandemic during a press conference in the rotunda at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday May 6, 2020. (Chad Hipolito/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The goal of B.C.’s reopening plan, according to public health officials, is to allow for a return to about 60 per cent of normal interactions, without causing a surge in infections.

“It won’t be the flipping of a switch. We’ll be proceeding carefully bit by bit, one step at a time,” Premier John Horgan said.

“If we lose this discipline, everything we’ve worked towards will be lost.”

By June, the province hopes to reopen British Columbia’s spectacular parks, hotels and resorts, allow the resumption of film production and overnight camping trips.

By September, provincial authorities plan to resume partial in-classroom instruction in post-secondary and K-12 schools.

Those developments will depend on whether B.C. is keeping its COVID-19 transmission rate low, officials reiterated again and again.

The plan unveiled by the provincial government included four phases:

Phase 1 (current phase)

Essential Services Operating During COVID-19:

  • Essential health and health services
  • Law enforcement, public safety, first responders and emergency response personnel
  • Vulnerable population service providers
  • Critical infrastructure
  • Food and agriculture service providers
  • Transportation
  • Industry and manufacturing
  • Sanitation
  • Communications and information technology
  • Financial institutions
  • Other non-health essential service providers

Phase 2 (starting mid-May)

Under enhanced protocols:

  • Restoration of health services
  • Re-scheduling elective surgery
  • Medically related services:
  • Dentistry, physiotherapy, registered massage therapy, and chiropractors
  • Physical therapy, speech therapy, and similar services
  • Retail sector
  • Hair salons, barbers, and other personal service establishments
  • In-person counselling
  • Restaurants, cafes, and pubs (with sufficient distancing measures)
  • Museums, art galleries, and libraries
  • Office-based worksites
  • Recreation and sports
  • Parks, beaches, and outdoor spaces
    Child care

Phase 3 (June to September)

If transmission rates remain low or in decline, under enhanced protocols:

  • Hotels and Resorts (June 2020)
  • Parks – broader reopening, including some overnight camping (June 2020)
  • Film industry – beginning with domestic productions (June/July 2020)
  • Select entertainment – movies and symphony, but not large concerts (July 2020)
  • Post-secondary education – with mix of online and in-class (September 2020)
  • K-12 education – with only a partial return this school year (September 2020)

Phase 4 (to be determined)

Conditional on at least one of the following – wide vaccination, “community” immunity, broad successful treatments:

  • Activities requiring large gatherings, such as:
    • Conventions
    • Live audience professional sports
    • Concerts
  • International tourism

With files from CBC News

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