British Columbians will be able to gather indoors, travel within Canada and attend outdoor events with few restrictions as early as July 1 under the province’s pandemic reopening plan unveiled today.
And decisions on moving through the reopening plan’s four stages will be based on objective criteria — vaccination rates, new cases and hospitalization rates.
“Our focus is going to be bringing us back together gradually, keeping us safe, and ensuring more people get vaccinated, so that our sacrifices, small and great, are not put at risk,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said today.
On Tuesday, the province reported 289 new cases each day over the weekend, the lowest daily number since early February as cases continue to decline.
Hospitalizations dropped to 301 with 93 people in intensive care, and active cases dropped to 3,782. Deaths remain low but consistent with 13 people having died in the last four days.
“The light that we’ve been talking about for weeks and weeks and weeks now is at hand,” said Premier John Horgan.
With almost 65 per cent of eligible people immunized, the first stage of reopening began as circuit-breaker restrictions ended.
Groups of six people from any number of households can now dine together indoors or outdoors, and indoor fitness classes can resume.
Indoor social gatherings with a maximum of five people from only one other household are now allowed, as are outdoor seated gatherings like a memorial service of up to 50 people.
Travel restrictions between B.C. health authorities remain in effect for at least the next three weeks but travel within health regions is no longer discouraged.
The second reopening stage, which would allow recreational travel within B.C., outdoor social gatherings of up to 50 people and increased indoor and outdoor team sports for all ages, could begin as early as June 15 if cases and hospitalizations continue to decline and 65 per cent of adults are vaccinated.
And increased vaccinations rates and fewer hospitalizations and new cases could usher in recreational travel across Canada as early as July 1, with no limits on social gatherings indoors or outdoors and outdoor events like fairs and festivals beginning. That third phase could see mask use in indoor spaces become recommended rather than mandatory.
And the fourth phase, which could begin at earliest on Sept. 7 if cases and hospitalizations remain low, would see regular social contact levels, sporting events with crowds and open offices and workplaces.
The time gaps between each phase will allow the province to evaluate the impact of reopening on cases and illness, Henry said, and slow down when needed.
“It will be based on data and not the dates.”
Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix also said that as vaccine supply increases, second doses for older people and those who are immunocompromised or deemed clinically extremely vulnerable will be prioritized and moved up earlier than the current nearly four-month interval.
But the province will not be considering the proportion of the population with second vaccine doses in its reopening plans. Some studies have identified second doses as important in protecting against COVID variants.
Henry said the province’s prioritization of single doses has shown how effective they are at protecting individuals by limiting community transmission. Second doses bolster personal protection much more than community protection, she said.
“Right now, the most important thing is getting as many people protected as possible and then we are going to be increasing the personal protection individuals have,” said Henry.
When asked by The Tyee whether there was an acceptable threshold for daily deaths in the plan, Henry said no.
“Everything we’ve been doing has been to prevent severe illness and dying from COVID-19 and that continues to be the focus of what we’re doing,” said Henry.
Horgan, Dix and Henry acknowledged that many may be feeling anxious about the resumption of close-to-normal life.
“We all need to be mindful and respectful of that, because not everybody is in the same boat as we’ve been saying from the very beginning of this storm,” said Henry.
In response to a Tyee question about how much confidence immunocompromised people, disabled people and those at higher risk for serious illness should have that this plan will protect them, Henry acknowledged that they will need to continue taking more care than the general population.
“You will get your second dose, but even that is not going to protect you 100 per cent, and you will need to keep taking precautions to protect yourself to protect those around you,” she noted.
“It may be slower for some communities and certainly some individuals to get to a place where they’re comfortable not taking the precautions we have been.”
Moira Wyton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Tyee