Plan to restart B.C.'s economy as COVID restrictions ease Tuesday: premier

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VICTORIA — The road map that lays out the path for British Columbia residents to get on with their post-pandemic lives will be revealed on Tuesday, says Premier John Horgan.

Details will be announced of a provincial restart plan that benefits communities, residents and businesses after series of restrictions on gatherings, activities and travel since March last year, Horgan said Thursday.

"We're confident that the plan we'll lay out on Tuesday will be a positive one for all British Columbians, whether they are people of faith who want to get back to their temples, to their churches, to their gurdwaras, or people who want to get back onto the field and play a game," said Horgan.

The province went back into health restrictions first imposed in March to slow the transmission of COVID-19 variants of concern in communities and bring down daily case counts that quickly rose above 1,000.

The restrictions closed down indoor dining, adult group fitness activity, planned indoor faith services and placed limits on non-essential travel.

Horgan said the restart will plot the direction ahead, but it will take time to reach the destination.

"All of that is just around the corner, but it has to be a slow and methodical approach," he said. "We're confident that come July we're going to be in a much better place."

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the restart plan will outline the route the province will take, but people should not expect an immediate, full-scale return to pre-pandemic days.

"It's not going to be everything at once," she said. "It's not going to be a light switch. It's going to be a dimmer switch."

A spokesman for B.C.'s devastated tourism sector said the industry wants restrictions lifted on non-essential travel that have kept people contained to specific health authorities.

"There have been a slew of cancellations to all parts of the province. There was a lot of business on the books that didn't materialize," said Walt Judas, Tourism Industry Association of B.C. chief executive officer.

The non-essential travel restrictions were deeply felt by tourism operators who saw fishing, golfing and weekend getaway business dry up, he said.

The tourism association wants to see provincial travel reopen next week, followed by increased interprovincial visitors and ultimately international tourists, said Judas.

B.C.'s impending restart plan was raised earlier Thursday in the legislature, with the Opposition Liberals calling for a structured economic plan to help businesses survive the downturns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our businesses in B.C. are struggling," said interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond. "They need certainty and what they need from this government is to finally give them a plan."

B.C.'s restart plan must include set targets and timelines for businesses, she said.

Economic Recovery Minister Ravi Kahlon acknowledged the hardships faced by businesses and B.C. residents and urged people to register for vaccinations and get immunized to help the province get back to normal again.

"People are tired," he said. "This pandemic has been hard on everyone."

COVID-19 case counts in B.C. have been declining in recent weeks as immunizations increase following record-high numbers of hospitalizations and COVID-19 infections.

On Thursday, there were 357 cases, the lowest number since mid-February.

The Ontario government announced Thursday a three-step reopening plan set to start on the week of June 14.

It said the plan to lift public health restrictions will be based on vaccination rates and other indicators.

Ontario also said it planned to reopen outdoor recreational facilities on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2021.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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