Easing of restrictions eyed for coming weeks; daily COVID-19 case counts remain steady

The province is looking at phasing in small outdoor gatherings, in-person religious services, in-province travel, sports events and spring camps as early as next week if COVID-19 transmission rates fall.

“We’re not going to rush to get things open, but we will take a thoughtful, careful and phased approach over the next few weeks,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday. “I like to think of it as slowly turning up the dial again rather than flicking a switch because we know that we’re not yet in a place where we can go back to our pre-pandemic gatherings.”

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At the end of this week and into next week, we may see the return of small gatherings outside where it’s safer, as well as activities, games and camps, that can be conducted with masks and safety precautions in place, she said.

Henry is looking at how we can travel and explore during March break as a family or a small group in our own region or within the province if communities are ready to receive visitors.

She advised colleges and universities to prepare for a full return to on-campus education in September.

Henry has been talking with faith leaders about holding small in-person ceremonies for Easter, Passover and Ramadan.

“My only qualifier is we’re still in the middle of this pandemic,” she said. “We still have a lot of transmission in our communities. So we want to make sure it’s a careful and thoughtful phased approach. So they may not be what Easter celebrations have been in the past, but there will be celebrations and unless things go off the rails, we are planning for them to be in person.”

Provincial health orders restricting social gatherings, mandating masks and requiring physical distancing remain in place.

“We’re still in our B.C. pandemic fight,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said. “Our case numbers are persistently high, as they were just under 1,500 over the weekend, with some indicators on the rise.” Excitement about vaccines can’t doesn’t excuse us from our daily duty to stop the spread of the virus, he said.

• 1,462 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in B.C. over the weekend.

• Greatest number in Fraser Health, with 802 cases.

• Island Health had the fewest with 72.

• 4,854 active cases of COVID-19 in the province; 240 in hospital, including 66 in intensive and critical care.

• 8,723 people being monitored after exposure to someone with the virus.

• 11 more people with COVID-19 in B.C. have died, bringing the total to 1,391.

• A new outbreak was reported at ­Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna, where two staff and 10 residents tested positive for COVID-19. Henry said the majority of residents and staff received vaccinations, and that some of those infected had two doses several weeks ago — a reminder, she said, that vaccination “doesn’t necessarily mean all transmissions will be stopped.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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