Circuit Breaker COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.
“We have been waiting for this day for a long time,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer.
She laid out the four-step provincial restart plan in a televised statement today.
Now that more than 60 per cent of the province’s adult population have been immunized with at least one dose of vaccine. While COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have stabilized, the province can move forward with the lifting of restrictions in a careful and gradual way, said Henry.
Beginning May 25, the province will begin to ease restrictions and start Step One of BC’s Restart Plan designed to get people back together.
This will mean that restaurants and bars may resume indoor service with physical distancing and mask requirements.
Activities that are now allowed under Step One include:
- 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 designated health region
- 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
- Continue a gradual return to workplaces towards pre-pandemic conditions
- 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 Two could begin June 15 if conditions permit.
Back in March 2021, when the third wave of COVID-19 cases began sweeping through the province, officials moved to prevent overwhelming the health care system with what they called “circuit breaker” measures.
“Rising case levels, variants of concern, increased transmission and an increase in more severe cases are huge concerns,” said Adrian Dix, minister of Health, in March. “B.C. public health officials are making the tough choices now to break the chain and protect our communities.”
They remind people that getting vaccinated is the most important tool to supporting the restart. Now that at least 60 per cent of the 18-plus population have received at least a first dose vaccination and case counts have been declining, the provincial health officials hope to see a complete return to a pre-COVID-19 world by as early as Sept. 7.
In order for that to happen, more than 70 per cent of the adult population must be inoculated with at least the first dose of vaccine, along with low case counts and low COVID-19 hospitalizations.
If we move to Step Four later this summer, normal social contact would be permitted and mask wearing would become a personal choice.
For now, people can continue a gradual return to the workplace with COVID-19 safety plans in place. Indoor low-intensity group exercise with limited capacity is permitted. Outdoor games and practices for all ages is allowed, but spectators are not permitted to any indoor or outdoor sports activities.
It is hoped that Step Two can begin June 15 if at least 65 per cent of the adult population have received at least a first dose of vaccine with continued declining case counts and hospitalizations. Masks will continue to be required at indoor settings. In Step Two, outdoor personal gatherings will increase up to 50 people. This includes birthday parties, barbecues and block parties. Recreational travel within B.C. will be allowed.
By Canada Day, July 1, Step Three will begin if 70 per cent of the 18-plus population have received a first dose of vaccine, along with low case counts and low numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Premier John Horgan said that it is important to move forward in a thoughtful way. He said more than 1,600 lives have been lost since the pandemic began 15 months ago. He acknowledged the sacrifices British Columbians have made over that time.
“We will continue to ask you to make sacrifices over the next few weeks,” he said.
He added that if things continue to go in the right direction, we could possibly see late graduation ceremonies.
“We’re excited about our opening plan…but we don’t want to lurch forward only to have to lurch backward,” he said.
An emotional Dr. Bonnie Henry said they have been waiting for this day for a long time. “The focus is to protect people and get them safely back to enjoying life,” she said.
The key is the distribution of safe, effective vaccines. And Henry says the province has a safe, steady, reliable supply.
Henry recalled that the restart plan that began in the summer of 2020 was derailed in October and November when the second wave of COVID-19 started. Back then, vaccine was not available.
The first doses of vaccine were administered in British Columbia in December 2020, and since then, distribution has been widespread.
“By February all long-term care residents were vaccinated – that is when we saw the value of vaccine,” said Henry. “Fewer people were getting sick and when they did they had milder symptoms.”
In March 2021 the third wave of COVID-19 brought with it variants which increased pressure on the health care system.
Henry says there has been a dramatic increase in vaccine supply and now people as young as age 12 can get vaccinated.
“We have seen the case rates come down dramatically since the vaccines have arrived. Now we have the foundation for a new restart,” she said.
If you or anyone in your family feels sick, the PHO advises that you stay home and get tested immediately.