B.C. could gradually start to ease restrictions in coming weeks, health official says

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides an update on COVID-19 cases in B.C. on March 8, 2021. (Mike McArthur/CBC - image credit)
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides an update on COVID-19 cases in B.C. on March 8, 2021. (Mike McArthur/CBC - image credit)

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C. could begin to allow small outdoor gatherings and limited travel if cases don't surge in the coming weeks.

She signalled a potential loosening of some restrictions during her latest COVID-19 briefing Monday as the province announced an average of 487 new daily cases of COVID-19 over the past three days.

"In the weeks ahead we can look at a modified return to activities that have been on pause this winter," said Henry.

The rules around sports and religious ceremonies will be the primary focus, said B.C's top doctor, as health authorities look to make upcoming faith celebrations possible, including Passover, Easter and Ramadan.

"It may not be what Easter celebrations have been in the past but they will be celebrations," she said. "Unless things go off the rails, we are planning for them to be in person."

Cautious optimism as vaccine rolls out

However, Henry says high rates of transmission are still being detected in communities.

Health officials confirmed on Monday that 144 of the new cases recorded over the weekend were linked to variants of concern, most of them the variant first seen in the U.K., bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases linked to variants in B.C. to 394.

WATCH Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C. could loosen restrictions in coming weeks.

Despite that spike and a seven-day average of daily cases that's been above 500 for two weeks, Henry maintains that she is much more optimistic than she was a month ago when she asked British Columbians to "do more" to stop the spread.

She says that's partly due to the fact that immunizations have been rolled out in all of the province's long-term care homes and partly because health officials now have a better grasp of where the variant cases are spreading.

"I am much more optimistic that we're keeping it low and steady and if we continue to do that we'll hopefully get things going down as more people are protected and we'll prevent that from taking off."

Potential return of outdoor gatherings by spring, summer

B.C's vaccine rollout ramped up on Monday as health authorities began to make appointments for people 90 years and older and Indigenous people who are 65 and older or identify as elders.

1.7 million calls came in during the first three hours.

Henry's optimism did come with the caveat that if cases begin to rise once more, more restrictions will be imposed.

Henry reminded people that transmissibility of the virus will fade in the spring and summer and that British Columbians can begin looking forward to outside gatherings and activities with safety precautions in place like masks and distancing.

"It is likely we are still going to have to deal with the virus that causes COVID-19, but we will be in a much different place by the time we head to the summer."

"[We're] not going to rush, but we will take a thoughtful, careful, phased approach to return," she said. "We cannot go [back] to pre-pandemic gatherings."

Henry also mentioned that restrictions limiting non-essential travel could ease to allow movement within a certain region. However, she advised people should continue avoiding travel to places that have their own restrictions toward visitors.