British Columbians can dine with friends inside restaurants, host a backyard barbecue, return to the office a few days a week, go to Pilates class or attend church services as the province begins what it calls Restart 2.0.
The B.C. government announced Tuesday a four-step reopening that includes a gradual return to indoor social visits, faith gatherings and outdoor sports starting today, although restrictions on non-essential travel outside three provincial zones have been extended until at least June 15.
Premier John Horgan said the “circuit breaker” restrictions put in place six weeks ago have accomplished what they were intended to. Transmission rates have dropped and vaccination rates have risen. “It’s an exciting day for all of us — we’ve made extraordinary sacrifices as a province and as a people over the past 15 months.”
Mandatory masks, business safety protocols and physical-distancing requirements will remain until at least July 1.
How quickly the province progresses through the four reopening stages will be determined by the number of adults vaccinated, COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations and deaths, taking into account clusters and outbreaks. “It’s not just about the dates, it’s also about the data,” said Horgan.
The province says 63 per cent of adults have had one dose of COVID vaccine, case counts are down about 65 per cent from a peak of 1,135 on April 12, and hospitalizations have declined from a seven-day average peak of 505 in hospital on May 2 to 353 on May 21. Tuesday’s new-case count for B.C. was 289, including three new cases in Island Health.
Households can now have up to five visitors indoors, and 10 people for outdoor personal gatherings. “This is the opportunity to start expanding our bubble,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
For organized gatherings with safety protocols, a maximum of 10 people indoors and up to 50 outdoors will be permitted. Low-intensity indoor fitness classes — hatha yoga, Pilates or light weightlifting, for instance — can resume.
Henry said hugging is OK for family members or close friends who have both had at least one dose.
Restaurants will reopen for indoor and outdoor dining for up to six people at a table — they don’t have to be household members — but no mingling is permitted between tables and liquor service will still be cut off at 10 p.m.
Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, called it an “incredible day.” “I am just so happy for the industry today.”
By July, the industry could be practically back to pre-pandemic operations, with few restrictions, said Tostenson. “It’s a great motivation for us to make sure we’re on the side of safety and doing the right thing.”
Outdoor team games and practices for all ages — with no spectators — can resume.
Faith services can begin in the next few days. The province expects guidance to be posted soon.
Bishop Gary Gordon of the Catholic Diocese of Victoria said he realizes there is still a high level of risk, with many people in the world continuing to suffer from the pandemic. “Today there will be some glimmers of hope for many, and we will continue to do what is helpful for the common good of our interconnected human family.”
In Stage 2, to begin June 15, much more will open up, including going to a movie theatre or indoor sporting event, but masks and physical-distancing will still be required.
The reopening plan envisions outdoor weddings of up to 50 people, and graduation ceremonies later in the summer, Horgan said.
If at least 65 per cent of British Columbians are immunized by mid-June, recreational travel in B.C. will be permitted.
“June 15 is not that far away and the plan certainly provides some certainty for the summer,” said Paul Nursey, chief executive for Destination Greater Victoria. “This is the kind of thing we have been asking for. Now we can plan and execute.”
Also by June 15, the plan is to allow liquor service until midnight — something Tostenson said is key for many late-night restaurants in the summer.
Kindergarten to Grade 12 classes will continue to operate under existing safety protocols to the end of the school year. Masks are required in school for Grades 4 and up.
Canada Day will herald Step 3, when, if all goes well and a minimum of 70 per cent are vaccinated, masks will be no longer mandated and many of the provincial health orders will begin to fall away, allowing for Canada-wide travel, fairs and festivals, an end to group limits on dining, the reopening of casinos and nightclubs with limited capacity, kids’ sleepovers, and limited spectators for indoor sports.
Scott Gurney of 17 Black Events is optimistic that this fall, he can restart one of his annual food, beverage, and music events, Brewery and the Beast, which in 2019 drew 2,200 to Royal Athletic Park.
“I think it’s exceptionally good news,” said Gurney, who received several calls from staff Tuesday who are happy to return to work. “We now have a target, a workable timeline.”
Grant Olson of the Strathcona Hotel group, comprising eight venues, including the Sticky Wicket restaurant and Distrikt nightclub, said he’s pleased to see the province headed in the right direction, but still “very concerned” that until people return to work downtown, “businesses will continue to suffer.”
From July 1 onward, B.C. residents can look forward to hosting out-of-province friends and family.
News on international travel will have to wait for direction from the federal government, said the premier.
By Sept. 7, life will hopefully mostly go back to normal, said Henry.
As students return to school, the plan is that masks will be a “personal choice,” large gatherings such as concerts will return, along with sports competitions that welcome spectators.
Jobs and Economic Recovery Minister Ravi Kahlon said employees can return to their workplaces a few days a week, with a full return after June 15, including small in-person meetings, with larger meetings and seminars outside the office after July 1.
— With files from Andrew Duffy and Mike Devlin
> Register for vaccination at gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated, or phone 1-833-838-2323.