British Columbians can expect a gradual release from the restrictions that have interrupted daily life – school, work, shopping, appointments and social gatherings – since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic, starting this month.
The provincial government revealed Wednesday its phased approach toward doubling the amount of allowable social and economic contacts – approximately 60 per cent of normal pre-coronavirus levels – after the first wave of COVID-19.
Beginning in mid-May, the province will allow medical and personal services appointments to be rescheduled under enhanced screening protocols. These appointments include things like family doctor visits, elective surgeries, dentist appointments, hair and nail treatments, counselling, massages, chiropractic appointments and speech therapy.
It also includes reopening much of the retail, recreation, restaurant, and employment sectors, with sufficient distancing measures in place. Provincial parks will reopen to daytime visits only and museums will also be allowed to reopen.
If the transmission of COVID-19 remains low through May, the province plans to reopen broad parts of the hotel and resort industry starting in June. These reopenings would include the return to overnight camping in provincial parks and the reopening of movie theatres and symphony performances.
The film and television industry can also return to domestic productions in June or July if transmission remains sufficiently low.
“Today we take our first steps,” Premier John Horgan announced Wednesday. “There’s much more to do, but the hard work starts with every step.”
Provincial health officials stressed that all of these reopenings are contingent on a series of strict public-health protocols being followed.
Social and family interactions
Effective next weekend, health officials are encouraging British Columbians to engage in small gatherings with friends and family, limiting gatherings to between two and six people.
Outdoor gatherings are recommended to limit the likelihood of spreading the virus and physical distancing is still encouraged. Socializing in-person remains strictly prohibited for anyone with symptoms of cold, flu or COVID-19.
“We still need to be mindful when we’re interacting with each other, especially with vulnerable people, that we keep our social circles tight,” Horgan said.
“By the [May] long weekend is the time that we will be able to go out and hug our family,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Wednesday.
Workplaces and offices
Offices and workplaces should minimize social interactions in congregating areas like kitchens and lunch rooms.
Managers are asked to encourage employees to work from home as much as possible. Officials are also asking employers to reduce employee interactions by staggering or reducing work hours and forgoing in-person meetings.
Anyone who has cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms must stay home. Workplaces that require interactions with outside customers are asked to minimize customer waiting areas and wait times, and to use Plexiglas shields between customers and staff.
If we do this right and responsibly – we will be moving in the right direction.