British Columbia officials on Tuesday unveiled a four-step plan to ease pandemic restrictions, with indoor restaurant dining and small social gatherings back on right away.
But the big changes will come in a few weeks when travel restrictions are expected to be lifted in mid-June and social gatherings start getting back to normal by early July.
The restart plan will follow approximate timelines based on vaccination rates continuing to rise across the province and COVID-19 cases continuing to decline.
“British Columbians have sacrificed so much over the last 15 months to help keep people and our communities safe,” Premier John Horgan said.
“We have made tremendous strides with our vaccination program, and we are now in a position where we can move forward with a plan to slowly bring us back together. As we have done throughout this pandemic, we will be closely following the guidance of public health and supporting people and businesses as we take the next steps in putting this pandemic behind us.”
The plan has four steps based on immunization levels and keeping case numbers and hospitalizations stable.
The first step comes into effect Tuesday. A maximum of five visitors or one household are allowed for indoor personal gatherings, and a maximum of 10 people can gather outdoors.
Indoor and outdoor dining for up to six people is allowed with safety protocols in place. Sports organizations can resume outdoor sports games for adults and kids with no spectators in attendance. Low-intensity fitness with safety protocols in place can also resume.
A maximum of 10 people are allowed for seated indoor organized gatherings with safety protocols in place and a maximum of 50 people are permitted for seated outdoor organized gatherings with safety protocols.
Indoor in-person faith-based gatherings can return at reduced capacity based on consultation with public health.
The province is only allowing recreational travel within travel regions.
The second step in the restart is planned for June 15 at the earliest, once 65 per cent of the adult population has received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and cases and hospitalizations continue to decline.
Step two includes outdoor social gatherings with a maximum of 50 people. Seated indoor organized gatherings — such as banquet halls, movie theatres and live theatre — can have a maximum of 50 people with safety protocols in place.
In step two, travel restrictions within B.C. will be lifted and people will be encouraged to travel across the province.
This phase also includes indoor sports games and high-intensity fitness with safety protocols and up to 50 spectators for outdoor sports.
The provincewide mask mandate, business safety protocols and physical distancing measures will remain in place.
The earliest possible switch to the third step of the restart is July 1.
The switch will take place if 70 per cent of the adult population has received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and cases and hospitalizations remain low.
At this point, the province anticipates lifting the state of emergency and public health emergency.
This will mean a return to normal for indoor and outdoor personal gatherings and increased capacity for indoor and outdoor organized gatherings with safety measures in place.
Bingo, nightclubs, and casinos can reopen at limited capacity with safety plans in place.
There could be new guidance around personal protective equipment, physical distancing and business protocols, the province said.
The province is looking at fairs and festivals and inviting people from outside the province. There will be no group limits on dining at this point as well.
“This is when I am hoping to get rid of all the public health orders that are in place,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
The fourth and final step could come into effect on Sept. 7 at the earliest if more than 70 per cent of adults have received at least one dose of vaccine and case numbers and hospitalizations remain low.
This is a return to normal social contact. Capacity will be increased at larger organized gatherings and there will be no limits on indoor and outdoor spectators at sports.
Concerts and professional sporting events can return with businesses operating with new safety plans.
“Today is a new day. We are one day closer to the light as we move into the last phase of our pandemic, we hope,” Henry said.
“This is a careful, four-step plan that brings us back to normal.”
— With files from The Canadian Press