Future COVID-19 restrictions in B.C. unlikely, say health officials


B.C.’s top doctor says COVID-19 restrictions are likely, a thing of the past.

“I hope and I expect that we’ll never have to put in orders,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer on Tuesday.

It’s a shift in public health policy that’s a relief to some.

“I think we’re ready, we’re trying to find a way to move on,” Victoria resident Tony Cmela told CHEK News.

“It’s kind of nice to see things get back to normal. I mean the virus is going to be around for a while, so we just have to live with it,” said Lee and Lisa Hack.

It’s a change that’s positive to researchers like Dr. Kiffer Card who is a social behavioural epidemiologist at SFU, who says it indicates that the government is trying to strike a balance.

“I think there’s certainly a proportion of people who have really been quite frankly traumatized by the COVID-19 pandemic, by the social distancing,” said Dr. Card. “Increased family strain, increased economic strain, and increased difficulties for youth and childhood development. Those mental health impacts are really critical to people’s lives and I think we’re starting to realize that it’s important to balance out that decision, that if we institute a lockdown yes it’s going to protect people against COVID but it’s also going to have these other intended consequences.”

But Dr. Card says the Province’s work isn’t over. He says that as COVID-19 becomes endemic, the government should now be focusing on system-wide changes that help British Columbians live with the virus.

“We have to keep in context that the COVID-19 risk mitigation guidelines that have been in place over the course of the pandemic have been largely individual. Things like wearing a mask, and counting on individuals to limit their number of social contacts,” said Dr. Card. “What we need are structural changes. Things like paid time off, childcare, and ventilation. And those things have been largely sidelined.”

And while many are feeling a collective relief at the current form COVID-19 is taking, researchers and health officials warn of an unpredictably changing virus.

“Diseases evolve. COVID is evolving,” said Dr. Sally Otto, a UBC professor and a member of the COVID-19 modelling group. “I will not bet on whether the next [variant] will be more or less deadly. They are both possibilities, and we have to prepare for that.”

Dr. Otto says it’s not time to throw away your masks just yet, and that restrictions shouldn’t be completely off the table.

“I’d like us to expect like a weather report. If a hurricane is coming, we batten down the hatches,” said Dr. Otto. “That’s when we put our masks back on and when we reduce our social contacts. Treat it like the weather. When it’s raining you bring your umbrella.”

Currently, there are no variants globally, which are ringing the alarm bells. But, health officials are offering caution for the months ahead.

“We need to be prepared that we will see a surge in the fall,” said Dr. Henry.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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