Restrictions lift, masks stay on: B.C. moves to long-term COVID-19 strategy

‘You will make your own decisions’

There will be dancing, dining, packed movie theatres, full restaurants, and fitness centres at full capacity soon as B.C. readies to ease several COVID-19 restrictions Thursday.

Officially coming into effect at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, the new strategy also allows personal gatherings to return to normal. However, masks and vaccine cards are still required, Premier John Horgan explained during a press conference Tuesday.

“It gives people comfort when they go out into social settings, particularly seated events, that the people that are around them have taken the same measures to protect themselves,” Horgan said.

The changes

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  • Personal gatherings are back to normal
  • Nightclubs, bars and restaurants can operate at full capacity; dancing is allowed
  • Organized gatherings are allowed
  • Indoor seated events such as movie theatre can operate at full capacity
  • Fitness centres can operate at full capacity, sports tournaments are allowed

Long-term strategy

While provincial health officer Dr. Henry acknowledged the virus may still mutate into a more harmful variant, she suggested the impacts are likely limited due to changing transmission patterns and B.C.’s high level of population immunity.

“This virus continues to circulate in our community,” she said. “Because we have such a high level of immunity through immunization, for most people, that doesn’t lead to serious illness or hospitalizations.”

Essentially, B.C. is shifting to a “long-term COVID-19 management strategy,” Henry explained.

“You will make your own decisions based on your risk and the risk in your family,” she said, discussing the lifting of restrictions on gatherings.

Regarding school rules, Henry suggested there could be more changes, “sooner rather than later.”

While vaccines seem to substantially cut the risk of long COVID, Henry said there’s still much to learn.

“We still don’t have a good understanding of children and longer-term impacts of this virus,” she said.

Given the baseline of immunity protecting many British Columbians, the focus should be on high-risk groups, Henry said, adding that more rapid tests should soon become available.

The importance of tests

Speaking from her home in California, Simon Fraser University health sciences professor emerita Jamie Scott emphasized the importance of distributing antigen tests.

“What they need to do is return to a system where people feel like they are getting to play a role in their own protection,” Scott said. “That really requires a system where people have their own access to cheap, if not free, testing that they can just do at home.”

Besides making people feel like they’re taking part rather than taking orders, the at-home tests would provide an ideal basis to decide who gets a PCR test, Scott added.

The data collected would allow B.C. epidemiologists to know “if anything bad is coming their way,” Scott added.

“If they really want to put it in the hands of the citizens, they would get those tests out there.”

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