VICTORIA — The B.C. government announced Wednesday that, as long as the rate of Coronavirus growth in the province remains low, it plans to keep adding services, businesses and social interactions to the “new normal” in the weeks ahead, over the summer and into the fall.
The next steps of the gradual reopening, to begin mid-May, will include opening parks for day use; opening schools on a voluntary basis; and allowing small social gatherings of as many as six people. Officials said gatherings should still be restricted for people at a higher risk of COVID-19, meaning each household will have to evaluate its own risk.
Officials say bars and restaurants, as well as other businesses that have been restricted during the pandemic, will work with provincial officials on sector-specific plans for reopening.
“We’ve put in place a plan that has slowed the growth of the virus and put us in place for a safe restart of the economy,” Premier John Horgan said during Wednesday’s announcement. “The good news is we’re already at Phase 1. That is because B.C. did not fully shut down.”
Unlike most other provinces, B.C.’s economic restrictions due to COVID-19 never extended broadly to non-essential businesses, meaning some book stores, shops and furniture stores remained open during the height of COVID-19 restrictions, as long as they could enforce physical distancing between shoppers.
But, Horgan warned, “Restrictions on large gatherings are here to stay,” meaning large events such as conventions are out of the question until there’s a Coronavirus vaccine, an effective treatment or community immunity.
The B.C. re-opening plan is predicted to roll out in the following way:
- Phase 1 (the present): During Phase 1, non-essential businesses were not broadly closed, but they were required to enforce physical-distancing rules. Child-care remained open, but only for the children of essential workers. Schools closed, with classes taking place online. Certain business types, including pubs, restaurants and personal services providers, such as hair salons, were ordered to close by the provincial health officer.
- Phase 2 is likely to begin in the middle of this month, according to Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer. During Phase 2, elective surgeries will resume; provincial parks will be open for day use, but not for camping; salons, more stores and service providers, such as dentists and chiropractors, will be allowed to operate, but they will have to work with WorkSafeBC, the provincial occupational health and safety body. Restaurants and bars will be required, as an industry, to work with provincial health officials on how to reopen safely. They will still have to keep their occupancy below 50 people or implement creative measures, such as Plexiglas barriers.
Henry said Phase 2 will be eased in to ensure businesses and service providers can reopen safely.
“I believe this plan gives us the tools so that we can increase our contact in a way that keeps us in a steady state, at least for the coming months,” Henry said.
Phase 3 will be introduced when it is clear to public health officials that COVID-19 is not spreading in an uncontrollable way with the Phase 2 rules in place. During Phase 3, camping will resume, spas and non-medical massage providers can resume operating, movie theatres can operate, and film and TV production can restart. Hotels and resorts can also start accepting guests.