B.C. will phase out capacity limits for organized gatherings and indoor seated events like Canucks games, as well as lift restrictions on dancing in bars and nightclubs, the province announced Tuesday.
As of Feb. 16 at 11:59 p.m., the B.C. government says it will lift restrictions on indoor personal gatherings and indoor and outdoor organized gatherings. Dancing will once again be permitted at bars and nightclubs, but patrons will still be required to show their B.C. vaccine card and wear a mask.
Fitness centres, adult sports, dance, swimming and other recreational activities will also return to full capacity, and restrictions on adult sports tournaments will be lifted.
The shift in COVID-19 management strategy comes as the province sees a decrease in community transmission, though it noted the rate remains high. While cases have also dropped recently, B.C. has discontinued reporting of active case counts due to its limited PCR testing strategy, so those numbers are considered estimates.
On Tuesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry said restrictions are able to be eased because of the high rate of protection from the COVID-19 vaccine, of which 90.5 per cent of eligible British Columbians ages five and up have received two doses of, and that the province has one of the highest vaccination rates of anywhere in the world.
Henry says though hospitalizations remain high — 803 people remained in hospital with COVID-19 as of Monday – the number is finally decreasing.
“We are in the place that we are, and we’ve made these decisions, based on the best science, based on the best data we have,” said Henry
Mask requirements, the vaccine card, and restrictions at long-term care homes, schools and childcare centres as well as faith services are expected to be reviewed by March 15, and again by April 12, prior to the Easter weekend, she said.
“We are shifting our response to a long-term COVID-19 management strategy,” said Henry. “We know there will be continuing pressure on this virus to mutate into a new variant, a variant that may cause more serious illness, a variant that may evade some of the immune benefits that we have right now, but we need to continue to monitor as well the balance of our population health.”
The province will continue to recommend people get vaccinated, wash their hands regularly, stay home if they’re sick and follow COVID-19 guidelines and requirements.
The decision to lift restrictions is based on the best science and data on what’s happening in the province, Henry said.
“We know that for some people what we’re doing today will be really fast and it will make them uncomfortable. We know as well for others it’s not fast enough and they would like to see things going back to as if the virus was no longer here. But the reality is that this virus continues to circulate in the community.”
While provinces including Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan have dropped the requirement for vaccine cards or announced plans to do so, Henry said that policy will remain in B.C. as part of a mitigation strategy for the highest-risk settings where capacity limits have been lifted.
“We’re different from Ontario and Quebec in that regard,” she said. “It’s played a role in reducing, and not eliminating, the risk of transmission,” she said of the proof-of-vaccination card.
Premier John Horgan said pressure from protesting truckers played no part in the province lifting restrictions, which were to be eased anyway by Family Day.
“This is not brought upon the public today by any protests, any horn-honking, any encampments. It was brought about because this was the plan we had when we brought in the restrictions to protect people at a time of uncertainty,” he said.
On Tuesday, British Columbia reported 787 people in hospital, 124 of them in intensive care.
Two more people have died, for a total of 2,766 deaths from COVID-19.
With files from The Canadian Press
Watch the full news conference below: