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B.C. lifting capacity restrictions for weddings, gyms, nightclubs

Capacity limits gone, dancing back on. B.C.'s COVID-19 restrictions measures are changing substantially Thursday. Liza Yuzda has the details.

As B.C.’s COVID-19 hospitalization numbers continue to decline, the province has announced most capacity restrictions will be lifted as of late Wednesday night.

As of Feb. 16 11:59 p.m., there will no longer be any restrictions around indoor personal gatherings, among other changes.

The following types of gatherings will be allowed at full capacity, with masks and proof of vaccination:

  • Organized gatherings, such as weddings with dancing (indoor and outdoor)
  • Indoor seated events, such as going to a movie
  • Gyms, adults sports, dance, swimming (including tournaments)
  • Restaurants, bars, and nightclubs (no table limits, mingling and dancing allowed)
B.C. capacity limit changes

As of Feb. 16 11:59 p.m., many capacity restrictions in B.C. are being lifted (Courtesy: B.C. government)

 

Masks will still be required in indoor public spaces, and the B.C. vaccine passport will remain in place.

The rules around capacities for worship services are not changing yet. If all participants are determined by the leader as vaccinated, there are no capacity limits. However, if anyone is not vaccinated, only 50 per cent of seated capacity is allowed.

Long-term care visitation restrictions, as well as school and child care guidelines are also remaining in place, as are restrictions on child and youth overnight camps.

B.C. COVID measures review

B.C. will review these COVID-19 measures in March and April, according to the province. (Courtesy: B.C. government)

 

“We’re committing to reviewing them again by March 15 and letting people know where we are then, based on the data and the surveillance that we have. And again on April 12, prior to the Easter weekend,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Henry says it’s her “hope and expectation” that B.C. will not have to go back to broad restrictions again.

On Tuesday, the province reported 787 COVID-19 patients in B.C. hospitals, down from 803 the day before. However, ICU numbers have increased by five to 124.

Two more deaths were recorded, both in the Northern Health region.

There are 39 outbreaks at B.C. health-care facilities.

‘It gives people comfort’: Horgan defends keeping vaccine passport for now

There is still no definite end to B.C.’s vaccine passport. However, Alberta and Saskatchewan no longer require people to show proof of vaccination, while Manitoba and Ontario are following suit in the coming weeks.

When asked why B.C. is an outlier with the vaccine passport, B.C. Premier John Horgan said proof of vaccination makes people feel comfortable in the community.

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

“British Columbians have been comfortable to be outliers on a number of fronts, and we’ve done so because we want to ensure that the sacrifices that people have made over the past two years are not in vain.”

Dr. Henry says the vaccine card has played a key role in the latest wave of the pandemic, with the Omicron variant.

“It’s played a role in reducing — not eliminating — the risk of transmission … We also know that in those indoor settings where we can have quite large numbers of people together, that even if there’s some transmission, the amount of immunity from vaccination means it’s not going to be spread as widely and we’re not going to get people getting seriously ill and ending up in hospital at the same degree.”

The order around B.C.’s vaccine passport was previously given a June 30 end date, though Henry said in January the province is continuously reviewing this measure, adding it could be lifted before that time.

However, some other measures, such as the provincial mask mandate, have no expiry date. B.C.’s masking rules were extended in December.

B.C. students getting rapid tests in ‘coming weeks’

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says 3.8 million more rapid test kits are being allocated to K to 12 schools, plus another 2.1 million for colleges and universities.

“These allocations related to education mark an important shift, as students will be offered in the coming weeks the opportunity to take home one five-test kit for their and their family’s future use, if they were to become symptomatic,” he said.

He also expects “the broader community” will start getting free tests, though no firm dates have been announced.

“We will begin with seniors, carrying on our focus on higher-risk individuals, but will expand to the broader population as the inventory continues to arrive.”

Dix notes testing is still supposed to only be used when people have symptoms.

“That hasn’t changed. Increased test availability means that more members of the general population will be able to access tests to use to understand their own symptoms and illness and to take action to limit transmission to their friends, family and work, including those at higher risk.”

Changes at schools coming ‘sooner rather than later’

When it comes to COVID safety measures in schools, Henry says we will likely see some changes “sooner rather than later.”

“How do we make it as as normal as possible an experience? We recognize that that’s so important for growth and development, especially for younger children. And now that we have vaccination available to all school-aged children, the risk profile changes,” she said.

Noting “there’s no such thing as zero risk,” the BC CDC is currently working with a steering committee on things like spectators at sports.

“We’ll be hearing more from the education committee and the education minister around that very soon,” she added.

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As of Tuesday, 90.4 per cent of British Columbians aged five and up have received at least one vaccine dose, while 85.3 per cent have received their second. More than half of adults have received a third dose.

According to the province, new daily hospitalization rates have remained relatively low compared to other provinces and countries.

B.C. hospitalization rates

B.C.’s daily hospitalization rates compared to other provinces and countries. (Courtesy: B.C. government)

It predicts in the coming month, new daily COVID hospital admissions will remain below the “pre-Omicron daily max” and will hit no more than half of what was seen at the peak of the third wave in recent months.

B.C. COVID hospitalization modelling

Modelling of the projected number of daily COVID-19 hospital admissions in B.C. (B.C. government)

 

The province says it is shifting to a “sustainable, long-term COVID-19 management strategy” with a focus on vaccination, self-management, and actions to protect those most at risk of serious illness.

It adds it is prepared to respond to future waves of COVID-19 “with least restrictive measures that target actions to protect those most at risk,” adding public health officials will “closely monitor the evolution of the pandemic.”

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Earlier this month, Canada’s top doctor said health authorities should start reviewing their pandemic measures.

In recent weeks, several provinces announced their plans to scale back restrictions — some more dramatic than others.

B.C. health officials are urging everyone to get fully vaccinated against the virus as soon as they are eligible, and reminding British Columbians to wash their hands, stay home, when sick, and follow guidelines that are in place.

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