B.C. to unveil restart plan as circuit breaker restrictions expire

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – British Columbians will get a better sense of what post-pandemic life will likely look like with the province set to unveil its restart plan Tuesday.

For months, restrictions have limited gatherings, indoor dining, and more. While B.C.’s so-called circuit breaker expired early Tuesday morning, the province has yet to officially green light the return to indoor dining or OK non-essential travel between health zones.

The industry has said restaurants and other establishments can technically open as of the morning, hours before the update. However, many are awaiting more clarity before putting in big orders and bringing staff back on for good.

Experts agree the lifting of restrictions will likely happen very slowly.

“I’m positive it’s going to be a slow reopening, and I think that’s a wise reopening. We can’t open too much or we’re going to overshoot,” Sally Otto, a theoretical biologist and professor at UBC, said. “We have 50 per cent vaccinations and that’s great news, but it’s only 50 per cent, which means the virus still has a lot of people that it can transmit to among the people that have not yet been vaccinated.”

Otto notes virus variants also still pose a significant risk, meaning “we’re still in a zone where we can’t go back to normal.”

Caroline Colijn, Canada 150 research chair and professor at Simon Fraser University, says we could see the province allow more social get togethers.

“It’ll be interesting to see if they do a kind of last out, first in. Maybe indoor dining is the first thing to open, or maybe it’s more thinking about how people are going to be able to see their families and friends, whether they’re going to allow maybe indoor gatherings or indoor small gatherings,” Colijn, a mathematician, explained.

“What are some things the province is able to sort of safely have up and running again? So it’s really hard to tell, and of course we mainly see the total case numbers — so we’re not seeing of the cases that are happening, are they happening in dining even though we’ve closed dining?” she admitted, noting one of the things we have learned over the course of the past year is that “outdoor activities are much much safer than indoor ones.”

With that in mind, Colijn says it’s likely the province will expand on outdoor activities and others that have proven to be “lower risk.”

“The so-called circuit breaker, the measures that were introduced at the end of March, did really have an effect, and I think that’s partly down to the kind of social rules around indoor dining and travel, but also partly around the workplace measures and around vaccination,” Colijn told NEWS 1130.

“I think we are in a position to safely reopen some things. I think there’s kind of an overall budget rather than a specified order of exactly which things should come first, except maybe … outdoor gatherings are really quite safe and quite low risk for transmission,” she added.

Otto agrees, adding we could see the idea of a “safe six” — social groups of no more than six close contacts — make a comeback.

“Of course, everything we do outdoors is safer … so we might see a relaxation of outdoor activities,” she explained, adding it’s still unclear if we’ll see restaurants open back up to full capacity or if that will be delayed until more people are vaccinated.

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However, she says it might take a little longer before we see non-essential travel within the province return with no limits.

“We still have a kind of dramatically different case number, density in the Lower Mainland versus the rest of the province,” Otto said. “The problem of travel is, of course, people taking the virus from hot spots to cold spots, and that’s what we’re hoping to prevent by keeping people near their homes.

“But we have to open up at some point. The case numbers are kind of stable. I would say the ICU numbers are still pretty high and the death rate’s still pretty high, so we’re not anywhere near past a major hump,” Otto added.

Even if travel restrictions are to be lifted, Otto recommends people delay plans if they can, noting more people will be vaccinated in just the next weeks and months.

Premier John Horgan, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Health Minister Adrian Dix, and Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon are expected to provide the update at 1 p.m. for the unveiling of B.C.’s restart plan. It comes a day after the province recorded 974 new cases in a three-day period over the long weekend, with the period from Sunday to Monday marking the lowest daily tally in months at 293.

Twelve people died between Saturday and Monday.

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