Small gatherings, elective surgeries and more kids back at school are all part of the B.C. government’s plan to slowly re-open as the number of new cases of COVID-19 begins to abate.
Premier John Horgan on Wednesday laid out B.C.’s phased approach to reopen parts of the economy, schools and health services, with some restrictions to be lifted by mid-May.
“COVID-19 has taken something from all of us, some more than others,” Horgan said.
“Tens of thousands of British Columbians are out of work. Businesses are struggling. Many people are dealing with mental health challenges. And it’s been weeks since we’ve seen our friends or our families.”
People will be able to slowly expand their social circle to a few friends or extended family members, but to stay in groups of only two to six people, on the Victoria Day long weekend, starting May 16.
“Restrictions on large gatherings are here to stay,” Horgan said. “Groups larger than 50 give the virus an opportunity to reemerge, no matter how far apart you are.”
Another first priority is the rescheduling of elective surgeries. Further details are expected from the province on Thursday.
Dentistry, chiropractic sessions, physiotherapy and in-person counselling will also be permitted to resume, as will the voluntary expansion of in-person schooling.
Schools will look different than what students are accustomed to. The biggest shift will be routine daily screening for COVID-19 for all staff and students.
There will be smaller classes, more space between desks and alternating attendance, while the education system continues to work on more online instruction for the fall, especially for high schools.
Students and staff will also be encouraged to wear non-medical masks for group activities and sports.
The next phase, to be rolled out June to September if transmission rates remain low, includes more parks and campgrounds reopening, as well as movie theatres, some concert venues, and hotels.
The province will not allow concerts, conventions and other large gatherings until there is wide distribution of a vaccine.
Personal hygiene measures, such as frequent handwashing, no handshaking, and physical distancing remain in effect.
“If we lose this discipline, everything that we’ve worked for to this point will be lost,” the premier said. “We need to get it right and we need to make sure that we’ve progressed together slowly and safely.”
Those at higher risk, including people older than 60 and those with compromised immune systems, are being asked to take extra precautions and think through decisions around expanding interactions.
Anyone who is showing symptoms of a cold, flu or COVID-19 are should stay home or keep a safe distance from others.
Workplaces have been provided a separate set of guidelines, and must have clear policies to ensure people who are sick do not come in, including a sick-day policy for the next 12 months.
Working from home, staggered shifts and small teams are still highly encouraged.
It has been nearly two months since B.C. officials put strict measures in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
According to the latest modelling data, released on Monday, B.C. continues to show dramatic decreases in COVID-19 cases, but officials say we keep social interactions at around 35-40 per cent of normal to bring the daily number of new cases down to zero.