British Columbia is further easing restrictions set in place to control COVID-19, meaning residents will be allowed to travel within the province as hotels, motels, resorts, spas, and RV parks look to reopen.
Premier John Horgan announced Wednesday that B.C. will gradually be moving into Phase 3 of its restart plan, after the province managed to increase activity without seeing a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Phase 3 of B.C.’s restart plan also means residents can travel within the province “safely and respectfully.”
“I think this can be an exciting summer for all of us, but be mindful: this is not regular programming,” Horgan said Wednesday.
Horgan said it is critical British Columbians continue with foundational health guidelines, which have helped with the province’s success in flattening its curve since March: physical distancing, wearing a mask when distancing is not possible, washing hands and staying home if sick. Gatherings with more than 50 people are still banned.
“This is not the summer to do the big family gathering at the cottage,” the premier said.
Entertainment venues like movie theatres can reopen under Phase 3, as can overnight camping in parks. Television productions can also start up again.
No out-of-province restrictions
As British Columbians get the blessing to travel further afield in the province, Horgan said there was no plan to restrict out-of-province visitors from entering B.C.
Residents of border communities in B.C., Alberta and Yukon often need to travel into neighbouring jurisdictions for services, Horgan said.
The important thing, he added, is that visitors keep to the foundational health guidelines while in B.C.
“Be mindful of what British Columbians have done together to get us to a position where we can welcome people from other parts of the country,” Horgan said.
WATCH: Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C. has no plans to restrict out-of-province visitors:
“I don’t see us ever putting in restrictions. We haven’t so far,” Henry said. “But we want people to have their travel manners on… Make sure they’re doing what we’ve been doing, so that we can all stay safe in our communities here in B.C. and when people are going back and forth to their communities in other provinces.”
Some First Nations will restrict visitors
Some B.C. First Nations said they will restrict visitors to their territories because the province needs to take further action to protect health in their communities.
In a statement, Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, based on Vancouver Island; Marilyn Slett, chief councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation, based on the Central Coast; and Chief Joe Alphonse, chair of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, based in the Chilcotin region, said the province has not provided adequate COVID-19 safety measures and failed to consult with communities.
The First Nations pledged to support each other’s efforts to restrict visitors, including travel advisories, bans and checkpoints.
In June, Nuu-chah-nulth announced restrictions on entering most of Vancouver Island’s west coast until COVID-19 safety conditions were met.
Horgan acknowledged the concerns of some Indigenous communities and said they wanted more information.
He said the ministers of Indigenous relations, public safety and health would provide that information “as we are as transparent as we can possibly be with those communities.”
B.C. found ‘balance’ to raise activity, but not case count: Henry
The reopening comes one day after the release of new modelling numbers updating the status of COVID-19 infections in B.C. Those numbers showed recent person-to-person contact rates in the province were at 65 per cent of normal, up from 30 per cent at the pandemic’s peak.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the data showed B.C. can keep infection rates in check if residents stay at their current level of contact with other people.
“We found a balance of increasing our contacts and doing it in a way that’s safe … we need to keep that balance for the coming months, until we have an effective vaccine or a treatment,” she said.
“We’ve been doing it over the last few months and we’ve been doing it well in British Columbia — we need to keep that up.”
Henry warned the province could see a “rapid rebound” in the number of cases if it reopened too quickly, or if residents get complacent.
Still, Henry said she believes British Columbians can enjoy their summer safely, acknowledging people need social interactions to stay emotionally healthy.
“We would not be making these recommendations if we were not confident,” she said.
Last week, Henry said she was pleased with the results of B.C.’s reopening for schools and some businesses, including restaurants, hair salons, dentist offices and physiotherapy clinics. Schools have been open on reduced schedules for students since June 1 and the salons, restaurants and clinics reopened on May 19.