B.C. poised to ease COVID-19 restrictions starting on Tuesday

The province is poised to ease COVID-19 restrictions starting Tuesday, based on increasing immunizations and declining numbers of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

“We are in a good place now to slowly start moving ahead,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who presented new modelling on Thursday that she says supports going to the second stage of the province’s four-step restart plan.

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That stage will see travel restrictions within the province lifted, outdoor gatherings expanded to up to 50 people, movie theatres reopened and liquor service in bars and restaurants extended to midnight from 10 p.m. Spectators remain banned for indoor sports activities, but up to 50 are allowed at outdoor events.

Health Minister Adrian Dix stressed that restrictions remain in place until Tuesday, and said the third stage — where limits on personal gatherings and restaurant dining are removed and Canada-wide recreational travel is permitted — won’t kick in any earlier than July 1.

Thursday’s announcement comes in part because the reproductive rate of the virus in health regions across the province is less than one, meaning people are passing the virus to fewer than one person.

While the number of COVID-19 cases in the province could increase over the next few weeks as the province reopens, they likely won’t be widely transmitted, Henry said. “We know that we can manage a slight increase in cases as we move forward over the next few weeks,” she said.

Still, public health officials are closely monitoring all indicators — including conducting genome sequencing on all variants, which make up the majority of COVID cases in the province, to detect spikes in the more highly transmissible strains.

Henry praised British Columbians Thursday for their efforts to reduce the spread of the virus.

“For 16 months, it has been your individual and collective efforts to use the layers of protection and follow all of the public health orders. Now, it is also getting fully immunized with your first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccine that is making the difference.”

The province reported 153 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, including 11 in Island Health. There were 1,910 active cases, of whom 176 were in hospital, including 49 in intensive or critical care.

Four new COVID-19 related deaths were reported, for a total of 1,729 deaths to date, as well as outbreaks in five long-term care homes and two acute-care facilities.

Close to 75 per cent of British Columbians have now received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

In total, 3.8 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca have been administered, including 443,562 second doses.

Henry reminded those who are anxious to book their second dose that notices will be sent eight weeks after their first dose — and that due to high demand in most locations, the appointment could be two to three weeks later.

Last month, the province reduced to eight weeks the expected 12-week interval between first and second doses.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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