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B.C. mask mandate lifts Friday, vaccine passport ends April 8

Massive changes coming to COVID-19 restrictions in B.C. — mandatory masking and vaccinations passes will be gone by next month. Liza Yuzda with the details as B.C.'s top doctor says we are in a good place but not out of the woods entirely.

In four weeks, virtually all of B.C.’s COVID-19 restrictions will be gone. The move towards near pre-pandemic normalcy begins Friday, when the province will no longer have a mask mandate. By April 8, the B.C.’s vaccine passport will no longer be in place.

Effective March 11, the face coverings order will be repealed, with B.C. following in the footsteps of several other Canadian provinces that did away with their mandates in recent weeks.

“Masks will no longer be mandatory in those broad ranges of indoor environments that this order sets out. However, some settings will still require that you wear a mask, for example, healthcare settings,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Although K-12 school guidelines will still include a mask mandate on March 11, they will be amended to remove the requirement of a face covering on March 28.

“Masks will no longer be required in all settings in schools once the children and staff return from break,” Henry confirmed.

“We recognize that Spring Break is slightly different in the 60 school districts across the province. Some … start tomorrow and a number start the end of next week,” Henry added, in regards to why the mandate will still be in place on Friday.

“I’ve made sure that all of the revisions in the guidance will come into play when you return from spring break — whenever that is for each school district.”

Henry says schools will be a “mask-positive environment”

“Those who continue to want to wear masks and are comfortable doing that will be supported to do that, both staff and students. But it will no longer be a mandate in classrooms in particular, and in other parts of the of the school.”

In addition to no requirement that staff or students mask up, there will also be changes to the limits on who is are allowed to enter the school, as well as staggered breaks.

“That will no longer be needed at the end of spring break and it’s a time of transition to help support children to getting back to … a more normal environment to support them in development and growth.”

COVID rule changes March 11

(CityNews)

“Masks continue to be encouraged in some of those settings where we have to get close to other people and we can’t necessarily avoid it — things like public transit and on BC Ferries — but (as of Friday) they’re no longer mandated under an order,” Henry said.

As of Friday, TransLink is removing its requirement that staff and passengers wear masks while using its services, with one exception: HandyDART.

Related: TransLink ending mask mandate for most services

Henry says it will be “critical to success” that everyone moves at their own pace.

“We know now a lot more about masks than we did a few years ago. They are both a layer of protection for ourselves, and importantly, a layer of protection for those around us.”

As of March 11, capacity limits for worship services and COVID orders related to overnight child and youth camps will also be gone.

As of March 18, all restrictions around long-term care visitation will also be lifted, however some facilities can choose to bring back visitors earlier.

B.C. vaccine passport gone as of April 8

The provincial vaccine card will no longer be required as of Friday, April 8, also following several other provinces’ moves. That means restaurants, bars, gyms, and other venues will no longer ask for proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of entry.

“The B.C. vaccine card will no longer be required in those indoor settings and higher risk settings and events. Businesses will transition from the workplace safety order, which requires COVID-19 specific safety plans, to the previous plans that we had in place last summer — the communicable disease plans,” Henry said.

Provincial vaccination passport programs have already ended in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.

The mask mandate has already been lifted in Alberta and Saskatchewan and will soon be gone in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec. Masks will continue to be required on transit in each of those provinces, with the exception of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

On April 8, the requirement that people living in post-secondary residence be vaccinated against COVID-19 will also be lifted.

COVID rule changes April 8

(CityNews)

On Thursday, B.C. reported four COVID-related deaths, including three in the Fraser Health region. The fourth death was in Interior Health.

There are 388 people hospitalized with the virus, down from 405 the day before. However, the number of people in intensive care has risen from 52 to 58.

There are currently 14 outbreaks at B.C. health-care facilities.

According to the government, over 90 per cent of British Columbians aged 12 and up have received their second COVID-19 vaccine dose and more than half have received a third. It also says 55.7 per cent of kids aged five to 11 have received at least one dose.

The daily new case numbers in the Omicron wave peaked during the winter holidays. Hospitalizations rose in the following weeks and then plateaued for about a month before starting to decline.

COVID chart

(Courtesy: B.C. Government)

Henry notes we are in a “transition phase.”

“We need to be ready and prepared for what the virus may bring next,” she cautioned, adding there are “many different scenarios … particularly as we go into the fall.”

She says while today is a “positive step forward,” some restrictions could return, if needed.

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When it comes to the mask mandate lifting, Henry notes some people will want to keep using masks.

“And that’s okay. We need to support that,” she said.

“We need to recognize that we all have our own risks and our own vulnerabilities and particularly if you are older or if you’re immunocompromised, you may still wear a mask in some locations, especially if you’re inside or around a large number of people that you don’t know.”

She adds people who aren’t fully vaccinated should consider continuing to mask up.

“If you’ve not yet had your booster or your children are not yet vaccinated, then masks continue to be a very important protective layer that you may want to continue to use especially in larger crowds and indoors”

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