B.C.’s top doctor says changes to COVID-19 orders and easing of restrictions to be unveiled next week will be based on science and data and not on a collective fatigue of the pandemic or what other provinces are doing.
“We’re all tired of this, we want it to end, but wanting it to end and not taking the right measures to get us through this are two different things,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in a media briefing Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Saskatchewan and Alberta announced they will scrap vaccination passports, mandatory masks and almost all other COVID-19 rules in the coming weeks.
Manitoba said it hopes to lift all restrictions by spring, but like Henry, is expected to base those decisions on data. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott has indicated proof of vaccination and masks will be required for some time.
Changes to pandemic restrictions and orders in B.C. will be gradual, Henry said.
The B.C. Vaccine Card doesn’t expire until June 30 and vaccine mandates are still being enforced.
Henry reiterated Wednesday that all regulated health professionals must be vaccinated by March 24 to continue working. If they have only one dose, they can continue to work as long as they receive a second dose 28 to 35 days afterwards.
Those on the list include acupuncturists, audiologists, chiropractors, dentists, dietitians, massage therapists, midwives, naturopaths, nurses, optometrists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, physicians and surgeons, psychologists, speech-language pathologists and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners.
B.C. public servants who failed to show proof of vaccination by Nov. 22 were placed on three months’ unpaid leave and could see their jobs terminated by Feb. 24.
Henry noted B.C. is still seeing the highest levels of transmission “we have ever had” in the pandemic, which was declared in March 2020.
While hospitalization and death rates have dropped because of vaccination and Omicron’s lower severity of illness, the province continues to see “staggering” numbers of deaths and hospitalizations, said Henry, noting the Interior and Northern Health regions have been harder hit by the fifth wave.
“We are getting through this pandemic but we are not through it yet here in B.C. or globally.”
Henry warned that another variant of concern will likely emerge, as she urged people to get vaccinated, get their boosters and follow public-health measures.
A third dose offers about 50 to 60 per cent protection from infection, said Henry.
With transmission expected to drop in the spring and summer, the province will devise contingency plans and build up the health-care system with surge capacity so that whatever happens in the fall, we will “never have to go back to broad societal restrictions,” Henry said.
The province released guidance Wednesday on how bars and nightclubs — still closed under provincial health orders — can reopen by serving meals from external sources. That has always been an option, but with the most recent closures and restrictions, the establishments were asking for clarifications, Henry said.
In future, she said, health messages will be geared more to advising people to manage their personal risk.
“This is going to be a serious respiratory illness that is with us for [at least] another year,” said Henry. “We’ll know more by this time next year about its patterns, and we’ll know more in the next few weeks about how we’re going to get through that.”
Henry doesn’t foresee a broad immunization program for COVID-19 during next fall’s respiratory season, but says it may be needed for those who are most vulnerable.
The province reported 1,187 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, including 163 in Island Health, where there are 1,336 active cases. That’s down from 1,593 active cases a week ago.
Eighteen new deaths were reported, five of which were in the Island Health region, while 893 COVID-positive individuals are in hospital in B.C. — down from 988 a week ago — of which 143 are in intensive care.
One new health-care facility outbreak was declared, at Sidney All Care, while an outbreak at Victoria General Hospital was declared over. Of 54 health-care facilities in the province with outbreaks, half are in Island Health.