Packed stadiums, indoor weddings, busy nightclubs and big family celebrations are returning to British Columbia.
Government officials have announced they are lifting many of the province’s COVID-19 restrictions at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, allowing many activities that have been off-limits since December – and in some cases, too many – again. To start with.
Bars and nightclubs will reopen, with patrons dancing and meeting between tables. Organized events like weddings and funerals will go on indoors. And all of those businesses and locations will operate at full capacity, along with movie theaters, performance spaces and playgrounds.
Officials are also lifting limits on domestic gatherings – allowing hosts to “return to normalcy” at home in line with the province’s plans.
Premier John Horgan credited the public’s widespread compliance with existing health orders for making the dramatic change in outlook possible.
“We have all made sacrifices,” Horgan said at a news conference on Tuesday. “I believe it is this collective effort that has put us in a position today where we can lift these restrictions and look forward to better days ahead.”
Masks will remain mandatory in indoor public places and proof of vaccination will continue to be required for many discretionary activities. Even those measures, which are considered a cornerstone of the province’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy, are to be reviewed in mid-March and again in April.
Pending changes are happening much faster than some critics expected.
Earlier in the day, Dr. Sally Otto of the independent BC COVID-19 Modeling Group suggested that the situation in hospitals remains too precarious for aggressive reopening plans.
“I’m looking forward to a gradual reopening that is commensurate with the number of hospitalizations,” Otto told CTV Morning Live. “People are getting impatient, but now is not the time to be impatient.”
As of Monday afternoon, 803 coronavirus-positive patients were hospitalized across the province, although this includes hundreds who were admitted for other reasons and tested positive only by chance.
Last week, BC’s rolling seven-day average for COVID-19 deaths also rose to a 13-month high of 13 deaths per day. Since then it has come down to about eight per day.
Otto noted that there has been much “division in the air” as well as increasing pressure on politicians to relax COVID-19 measures and remove the mandate. Protests against convoys carrying disruptive trucks have raised temperatures across Canada, though B.C. officials have demonstrated nothing to change their approach.
Horgan addressed the protests on Tuesday, thanking “90 percent of truck drivers” who continue to work delivering essential supplies across the country.
Of others, he said: “We can agree to disagree, but we must not disagree.”
Even experts who remain concerned about lifting the ban acknowledge that the Omicron wave is waning. Provincial health officer Dr Bonnie Henry argues for widespread vaccination – B.C. has fully immunized more than 90 percent of residents age 12 and older – for a long-term COVID-19 management strategy focused on individual responsibility as well as “specific actions to protect those at risk of serious infection.”
“We know that our elders, our seniors, people who have immune-compromised conditions,” Henry said.
For others, she pointed to a growing body of evidence that vaccination against COVID-19 reduces the risk of transmission, and in particular death and other serious consequences.
But as the province takes major steps toward returning to normal life, Henry cautioned that the pandemic was not over.
“We know that there will continue to be pressure on this virus to mutate into a new variant – a variant that can cause more severe disease, a variant that may evade some of the immune benefits that we have now,” he said.