In March, British Columbia seemed to be the worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has since handled the outbreak well and flattened the curve much ahead of other provinces.
Despite its low daily case count, the government is still cautiously treading the path to reopening BC. Like other provinces, British Columbia, too, has taken a phased approach to reopening. It is currently in phase 3 of a four-phased framework.
BC is moving forward based on the effectiveness of safety measures, and new scientific data about COVID-19. The province is relaxing restrictions based on a four-point criteria:
- Monitoring incubation periods
- Tracking COVID-19 cases
- Keeping a close eye on new outbreaks
- Learning from the response of other provinces
The first phase began in mid-March and ended on May 18, 2020. British Columbia declared a public health emergency and a provincial state of emergency. It issued social distancing and hand hygiene guidelines for individuals and businesses.
The government took prompt measures to protect senior residents and people at risk. It restricted the number of visitors to long-term care homes.
While essential services continued, non-essential personal services (hair and nail salons, spas, etc.) were closed. Dine-in service at restaurants and bars was also closed. The province prohibited mass gatherings of more than 50 people.
British Columbia closed all parks, and postponed non-urgent and elective surgeries. In-classroom learning and child care was reduced. Foreign nationals were not allowed to enter Canada by air travel. The Canada-US border was closed to all non-essential traffic.
All international travellers returning to BC had to self-isolate for 14 days and complete a self-isolation plan. They were also required to complete the federal ArriveCAN application for approval upon arrival or before returning to the province.
The government launched the BC COVID-19 Action Plan to support individuals and businesses.
The second phase started in mid-May and ended on June 23, 2020. Restaurants, cafes, shopping malls, retail stores, libraries, offices reopened in Phase 2. Child care facilities, hair salons, gyms, beaches and recreational centres could reopen as well. Residents could now expand their social circles or “bubbles”, while maintaining social distancing.
All businesses were required to follow extra safety precautions and social distancing measures. They had to set up a COVID-19 Safety Plan, which could be posted online or at their worksite.
Health authorities issued specific health and safety guidelines for different sectors. The province asked residents to stay close to home and avoid any non-essential travel between communities.
Museums, art galleries and libraries reopened. In-person counselling and medical services such as dentistry, physiotherapy, got the go-ahead.
British Columbia is currently in Phase 3, which started from June 24, 2020. The third phase allows for “smart, safe and respectful travel” within the province.
The government has issued guidelines for safe travel. The guidelines and extra safety precautions issued in Phase 2 are still in effect.
The ban on gatherings of 50 or more still holds. British Columbians may get together only in small groups of 2 to 6 people. They should try and limit the number of people in their social bubble. They are allowed to hug and kiss, not wear a mask or keep a distance of 2 metres inside their bubble. However, they must continue to stay 2 metres away from people outside their bubble.
Overnight camping is allowed in some parks in the province. Hotels, motels, resorts, lodges, cabins may reopen. Film and TV production can resume.
In May, the province provided parents with the option to send their children back to school on a part-time basis from June 1, 2020. A complete in-class return may happen in September 2020 under Phase 3, if it is safe to do so.
The fourth phase of reopening BC is subject to the global availability of a COVID-19 vaccine. The province plans to enter this phase only when the daily case count goes down across Canada and the world.
British Columbia hopes to allow large gatherings and international tourists in Phase 4.
Transition to Phase 4 will happen only if at least one of the following criteria is met:
- Wide vaccination
- Community immunity,
- Broad successful treatments
If and when that happens, BC will allow activities that require large gatherings (concerts, conventions, etc.).
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