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B.C. lifts most COVID-19 restrictions as long as masks and vaccine cards are used

B.C. will lift most COVID-19 restrictions Wednesday at 11:59 p.m., B.C. health officials announced Tuesday.

Indoor personal gatherings, indoor and outdoor organized gatherings and indoor seated events will be able to return to full capacity, as long as attendees wear masks and B.C. vaccine cards are used, Premier John Horgan and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a live news conference.

Restaurants, bars and nightclubs may also return to full capacity, with no table size limits. Dancing is allowed once again. The order also includes the relaxation of restrictions on fitness centres and adult sports with no capacity limits as long as masks are worn and vaccine cards are used.

Restaurants can return to full capacity, as long as customers continue to wear masks indoors and show their vaccine cards upon entry. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Current provincial health guidelines that call for masks, the B.C. vaccine card and rules around long-term care visitors will be reviewed over the next two months, Henry said. Guidelines for schools and child-care facilities, faith community restrictions and orders for child and youth overnight camps and industrial camps will also be reviewed.

COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to fall and severe illness from the virus has been mitigated by vaccines, she said.

“I want to say how proud I am of people in British Columbia for stepping up and doing what you have done to take care of each other, to follow the guidance that we have,” Henry said.

“We want to move ahead slowly, and cautiously, and thoughtfully.”

Changes to school guidelines expected ‘soon’: PHO

Henry said she expects changes to be made to COVID-19 guidelines in school settings “sooner than later.” She said teams are working to make schools as normal as possible for students, parents and staff. 

“There’s no such thing as zero risk in a school setting,” she said.

The availability of vaccination for school-aged children changes the risks in schools, Henry said. But, only 55 per cent of children five to 11 in B.C. have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.  

“Obviously that’s not an acceptable level,” Henry said.

Dr. Francis Lee, right, puts a bandaid on Jacob Wolak, 10, after giving him a COVID-19 vaccine in Vancouver, B.C. on Nov. 29, 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Henry says she is considering more targeted clinics for young children and encourages people to talk to their family physicians about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine for children.

Ensuring balance

The province says the decision to lift some restrictions comes as it tries to balance the ongoing transmission of the virus with the psychological and economic toll restrictions have taken on British Columbians over the past two years.

“We know that for some people what we’re doing today will be really fast, and it will make them uncomfortable, Henry said. “We know for others it’s not fast enough.”

She said it’s important for businesses and individuals to move forward at their own pace.

High vaccination rates 

Henry credited high rates of immunization in B.C. with the decision to lift restrictions.

She says B.C. has one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world; as of Monday, 93.5 per cent of eligible adults have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Horgan says relaxation of restrictions was planned and not a response to protests:

Lifting COVID-19 restrictions not the result of protests, says B.C. Premier John Horgan

1 day ago

Duration 0:41

Horgan says the restrictions have always been temporary and that the province would revisit them ahead of the Family Day long weekend. 0:41

A total of 2.4 million people, 55 per cent of those eligible, have received a booster shot so far. Thousands of vaccines continue to be administered every day in B.C.

Officials also credited British Columbians who have consistently followed public health orders and continued to wear masks when required for declining community transmission.

“I believe all British Columbians have gone through tremendous times over the past two years. All of us have made sacrifices,” Horgan said. 

Other provinces nixing vaccine cards

On Monday, Ontario announced it would be removing its vaccine passport system on March 1, although masking requirements would stay in place. 

Manitoba will also be lifting its vaccine passport requirement on March 1, while Saskatchewan and Alberta have already done so. 

“We’ve always had a bit of a different approach in use of the B.C. vaccine card and it’s for very specific settings that are higher risk settings,” Henry said.

Horgan said keeping the vaccine card in place gives people comfort to know that others in higher risk settings are vaccinated. 

“I believe that British Columbians want us to chart a B.C. course based on the variables that come into play in our communities,” he said.

Long-term strategy

Henry said dropping the restrictions marks the transition to a long-term COVID-19 strategy and said the goal is to live with the virus without it disrupting other aspects of  life.

She said the province will continue its push to get as many British Columbians vaccinated as possible.

Public health will also be focused on self-management of COVID-19 at home, because the virus is often mild for those who are vaccinated and not part of a vulnerable population.

She said the virus will likely mutate into a new variant, and public health will need to be ready to respond to what we’ve seen is an ever-evolving virus. 

“If we continue to respect each other, to be kind to each other, we will get through this phase of [the pandemic].”

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