Premier outlines plan to restart B.C. Safely

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B.C. Premier John Horgan has announced the first stages of a gradual reopening plan for the province’s economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic — including opening parks for day use, opening schools on a voluntary basis, and allowing small social gatherings.

B.C.’s COVID-19 economic reopening plan came Wednesday on the tail of plans released in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and while Quebec is already planning a return to school for kids this month.

“We’ve put in place a plan that has slowed the growth of the virus and put us in pace for a safe restart of the economy,” Horgan said. “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.

Daycares for essential workers also remained open during Phase 1.

Transitioning through the rest of the phases will not come with the flick of a switch, Horgan warned.

“Restrictions on large gatherings are here to stay,” he said. Border restrictions will also stay for the long-haul, with Canadians required to quarantine for 14 days when they return from abroad.

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

Phase 2 is likely to begin in the middle of this month, said 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 retail businesses 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, which were among those businesses ordered closed by provincial health orders, 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 rate below 50, or implement creative measures such as Plexiglas barriers.

Henry said the pieces of Phase 2 will not be introduced all at once, but be eased in, to make sure businesses and service providers can reopen safely.

The intention is to move slowly enough that when services open, they will not have to close again.

“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

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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.

Phase 4

Few details were given for Phase 4, which Horgan said will not be introduced until a vaccine or COVID-19 treatment is available.