B.C. could allow outdoor gatherings, sports and some religious ceremonies in coming weeks
VANCOUVER -- Health officials in British Columbia could soon be easing some of the tough COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place across the province for months.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the government is considering a relaxation of restrictions over the coming weeks that could allow residents to return to sports, attend some religious ceremonies, and gather together outdoors.
"I'd like to think of it as slowly turning up the dial again, rather than flicking a switch, because we know that we're not yet in a place where we can go back to our pre-pandemic gatherings," Henry said.
"What we are looking at as we head into March break or spring break, at the end of this week and into next week, is seeing the return of things like gatherings outside where it's safer."
Henry did not provide any further details on what those outdoor gatherings could look like.
She did hint at the possibility families or small household groups would also be allowed to travel between different regions during March break, but stressed that people should avoid "places that are not yet ready to receive visitors."
"The risk is different in different communities in this province and we need to be mindful of that," she added.
The provincial health officer said the resumption of sports and certain religious events could also happen in the coming weeks. Though she did not provide a firm timeline, she suggested people could be sitting in pews for Easter.
'We know there are many important dates coming up in many faiths, and we are working on how to best safely enable these important and critical celebrations in our religious life," Henry said.
None of the restrictions have been relaxed yet.
Less than two weeks ago, Henry broke the news that B.C. was not ready to take its foot off the brakes, pointing to a number of alarming metrics that officials use to determine the severity of the pandemic.
Those included a gradually increasing seven-day average for new cases, and an increasing COVID-19 test positivity rate.
The weekly average has hovered around 500 per day since, and increased to 520 in recent days.
Henry said the continually expanded understanding of COVID-19 variants of concern, rising temperatures and the ramping up of the province's immunization program are among the factors being weighed in the government's decision-making.
"It continues to be true that outside is better than inside, bigger spaces are better than smaller spaces, and our layers of protection will still be needed, and still work, even with the increasing numbers of cases caused by more infectious variants," she said.
"As we head into the spring and summer, we know that the transmissibility starts to fade, as well. These principles will be guiding our decisions in the coming weeks."