B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan has begun with a return of indoor restaurant dining for up to six people, and indoor home gatherings for up to five people or one additional household.
Tuesday (May 25) begins the first of four stages of lifting public health restrictions, and further stages depend on coronavirus infection rates and hospitalizations remaining stable. Rules for indoor dining and fitness have returned to what they were before the “circuit breaker” restrictions took effect at the end of March, with dining and liquor service until 10 p.m. If coronavirus infection rates continue to fall and vaccination rates to rise, that would extend to midnight as early as June 15.
“The circuit breaker restrictions that we put in place six weeks ago have done what they were supposed to do,” said Premier John Horgan, adding that bookings are now accepted for recreational trips, as long as they are within the three regions of the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and the B.C. Interior.
Travel between those regions remains restricted to essential trips until mid-June, and after that people should check for local travel advisories before planning a trip.
The earliest point where mask and social distance rules could be relaxed is in phase three, in early July, based on B.C. reaching 70 per cent vaccination of eligible people. That would allow nightclubs and casinos to reopen with capacity restrictions, and a return to normal for indoor and outdoor personal gatherings. Early July could also see the end of the longest provincial emergency declaration in B.C. history, since March of 2020.
Phase two also allows for outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people and the same limits for seating-controlled theatres and banquet halls. Regional travel restrictions may also be removed as soon as June 15 if infection rates remain stable or continue to decline.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said step one is possible because B.C. has reached 60 per cent of first-dose vaccination for the adult population. The biggest surge of infections has subsided since it peaked in March, as the province-wide vaccination program has opened up to all adults.
“As we have seen all along in this pandemic, people in B.C. stepped up,” Henry said, both with following physical distance and mask requirements, and registering and receiving vaccine appointments.
The fourth step is scheduled for as early at Sept. 7, as schools and colleges return to in-class teaching. It would include increased capacity for larger gatherings such as weddings and religious services, and removal of limits on indoor and outdoor sports spectators.
“Maybe we’ll even get to watch the Canucks this fall,” Henry said. “Maybe they’ll have a good season.”