On Wednesday afternoon, B.C. Premier John Horgan, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Health Minister Adrian Dix outlined a four-tier plan to increase economic activity in the province.
This plan contained some details for expanding social circles in people’s day to day lives, as well as how restaurants, retail stores, and schools can safely accommodate more people in the coming weeks and months.
B.C. is already in Phase 1 of the four-phase reopening plan, as unlike other provinces, most economic sectors were never ordered to fully close in the first place.
Rather, many industries shut down of their own accord in the absence of ways to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 transmission, while others significantly reduced the amount of business they conduct.
Wednesday’s announcement mainly provided guidelines for implementing Phase 2 of the reopening plan which will take effect after May long weekend, with details for implementation to be provided in the coming days.
The timeline for implementing phase 3 — reopening provincial parks to campers, opening movie theatres, restarting hotels and resorts, among other measures — will depend on whether new case rates continue to remain steady and decline.
More information about this phase is expected to be announced in the period between June and September.
However there are certain favourite summer pastimes that all British Columbians can wave goodbye to this year.
The Ministry of Health is working to develop plans to safely reopen the more complicated businesses of night clubs, casinos, and bars. Those will not be open for business this summer.
Dr. Bonnie Henry has also made it clear that the provincial health order banning gatherings of 50 or more people will remain in place this summer.
The Premier spelled out what this means for B.C.’s summer 2020: no conventions, no concerts, and no live audiences at professional sports events.
International travel for tourism purposes is also expected to stay at a standstill this season, as borders remain closed for the foreseeable future.
These restrictions will not be lifted until there is a wide level of vaccination against COVID-19, broad successful treatments, or herd (“community”) immunity.
Questions left unanswered
Wednesday’s announcement tackled directions for a broad range of activities and economic sectors — everything from schools to health care to restaurants.
Perhaps understandably, there now remain many questions regarding how some of these guidelines will be implemented on the ground, concrete dates for when things will reopen, and some industries that still have no direction.
For example, while there was no province-wide ban on gyms and fitness studios, many of these businesses shut down of their own accord due to risks of transmission.
In fact, in the Island Health region, these businesses were ordered to shut down by medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback on April 3rd.
This order expires on May 30th and is subject to revision, cancellation, or extension. But regardless of what individual health authorities choose to do, there is currently no direction for gyms and fitness studios from the province.
Another major priority for public health officials in B.C. is the resumption of elective surgeries, diagnostic appointments, and medical services like dentistry, physical therapy, speech therapy, etc.
Wednesday’s announcement provided no concrete details about the timeline for restarting these services, but Premier Horgan along with Minister Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie Henry, will be updating the province on that subject on Thursday morning.
Details about the K-12 school system have been another sticking point, with many wondering when and how students will safely be allowed back into classrooms for in-person instruction.
According to Premier Horgan, schools will begin trialling ways to stagger more students for in-classroom instruction after the May long weekend, with some students alternating their schedules and others sticking to online instruction.
Further details on when these trials will begin are yet to come, and the Ministry of Education is expected to announce those details in the coming days and weeks.
Since the start of the pandemic, one of the main directives from public health officials has been discouraging employees to go into the workplace while sick.
Many have been forced to ignore this rule due to fear of losing wages and consequences from their employer. This has led to outbreaks at poultry processing plants in the lower mainland.
One of the main questions arising out of the pandemic, therefore, has been that of ensuring workers have the ability to take more paid sick leave or work from home whenever possible.
While Wednesday’s announcement provided no details on how employers can be overseen to make sure they follow these practices, provincial authorities are working to implement policies that do so.
More announcements on this subject are expected in the coming days and weeks, as questions surrounding safe and equitable labour practices hangs heavy in B.C.
Finally, after weeks of zero bipartisanship in the province’s response to this pandemic, opposition leader Andrew Wilkinson has spoken out with criticisms after Premier Horgan’s announcements.
“People all across the province have stepped up and made sacrifices to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and we owe everyone a debt of gratitude for those continued efforts. But at the same time, people have been waiting patiently for a detailed economic recovery plan, which didn’t happen today,” said Wilkinson in a statement.
“Parents still have no details about school or summer camps and small businesses across the province have no information about criteria for reopening or increased supports until then.”
As B.C. starts moving into Phase 2 of its pandemic reopening plan, more announcements and details for the practical implementation of guidelines can be expected in the coming days and weeks across all industries.
For now, British Columbians must stay patient for a little while longer.