B.C. is moving to Step 2 of the province’s COVID-19 restart plan on June 15.
The criteria for moving to Step 2 is based on at least 65 per cent of the 18+ population being vaccinated with one dose, along with declining case counts and COVID-19 hospitalizations.
As of Monday, more than 75 per cent of adults in B.C. are now vaccinated with their first dose.
The other metrics for moving through the stages, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, continue to steadily decline.
“I am confident that we are on track to safely and confidently bridge to step 2 and am amending the relevant provincial health officer orders so we can do just that,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer said in a release. “The data shows us that with strong safety plans in place, and all of us continuing to use our layers of protection, we can now increase our much-needed social connections a little bit more. Whether it is travelling to visit family in B.C., having a small wedding or watching your child’s soccer game, these are the things we have all missed.”
On Friday, British Columbia reported 180 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death as hospitalization numbers continued their steady downward trend.
The seven-day average for new cases remains at 161.
There were 162 people in hospital, less than one-third the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in B.C. at the peak of the pandemic’s third wave.
What changes on June 15?
Outdoor personal gatherings of up to 50 people (birthday parties, backyard BBQs, block parties) will now be permitted and children will be able to have playdates.
Organized gatherings indoors can now take place with up to 50 people with a COVID safety plan in place. This means movie theatres and live theatres will be able to open. Events will up to 50 people will also be permitted in restaurants.
Indoor religious ceremonies can be 10 per cent of the building’s capacity or 50 people – whichever number is bigger.
When it comes to travel, provincial travel restrictions are lifted, meaning recreational travel within B.C. is allowed.
However, the out-of-province non-essential travel advisory continues.
BC Transit and BC Ferries will also be able to offer increased service as needed.
Restaurants and bars can serve liquor until midnight.
Banquet halls can also operate with up to 50 people in attendance and a COVID-19 safety plan in place.
For those looking forward to exercising inside, high-intensity group exercise will be allowed with reduced capacity and indoor games and practices for both adults and youth teams will be allowed. However, no spectators allowed at any indoor sports activities but outdoor spectators up to 50 people will be permitted.
Businesses and workplaces can also begin to bring people back to the workplace and small, in-person meetings will be allowed.
Masks will continue to be a requirement in all indoor public settings, along with physical distancing and frequent washing and sanitizing of hands.
All other capacity limits and guidelines listed in Step 1 stay in place.
The earliest target start date for Step 3 is July 1, and for Step 4 is Sept. 7.
“Our step-by-step reopening plan is giving British Columbians what they have been waiting for,” Melanie Mark, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport said in a release.
“The best way we can show our love for BC is to get out and eat, stay, shop and play. Whether it’s watching your kids play sports outside, going to the theatre or travelling to new and exciting destinations across the province, we can finally get out and support people, jobs and our economy.”
According to the data presented by Henry, a 70 per cent interaction rate, combined with high vaccine uptake, would mean close to zero new cases a day by the beginning of that month.
In comparison, with lower vaccine uptake and an 80 per cent interaction rate, B.C. would likely record 200 new COVID-19 cases a day at the beginning of September.
Summer travel plans
The restart comes just in time for B.C.’s hard-hit tourism-related business that are still hoping to salvage the summer season.
While visitors from the rest of Canada and other countries still won’t be returning for at least a few more weeks the relaxation of travel restrictions within B.C. is expected to quickly lead to more booked hotel rooms, campsites and cabin rentals.
The B.C. government is also now encouraging people to “think big” when planning their B.C.-based summer vacation.
“We’ve all felt, obviously, we haven’t been able to do that since last summer and even last summer, we were all quite cautious,” Maya Lange with Destination BC told Global News Monday.
“So I think there really is this pent-up demand and a lot of excitement to get out and explore B.C., which is just fantastic news for the tourism businesses who have really seen a significant drop in revenue over these past 15 months.”
-with files from Richard Zussman and Simon Little