VANCOUVER -- The B.C. government has revealed certain COVID-19 restrictions could be lifted as early as next month if people continue dutifully following public health advice and respecting restrictions.

Health officials unveiled new modelling Friday that shows the province has made significant progress in flattening its epidemic curve. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the number of new test-positive COVID-19 cases began gradually declining about two weeks after officials first imposed the measures that have dramatically changed daily life in B.C., including physical distancing rules.

"That's our bending the curve," Henry said. "This slow down is due to our public health actions, it's not due to what we call in epidemiology herd immunity, or what I prefer to call community immunity."

If that progress continues, officials said they could be able to ease some restrictions, such as allowing elective surgeries to resume, as early as mid-May. Others, including the return of non-essential travel, are expected to take much longer.

Officials stressed that any relaxing of the rules must be done thoughtfully and gradually to prevent the province from seeing "explosive outbreaks" that could reverse all of the progress made so far.

"Our goal as we move forward is to control the transmission and the growth of any new cases of COVID- 19 in our community and minimizing any of the negative unintended consequences of these public health measures that we've put in place," Henry said.

"That is our dilemma, and what we need to focus on for the coming weeks and months is just the right amount of restrictions."

Reaching community immunity is the only way things can fully go back to normal, officials said, and the best way to achieve that will be through a vaccine. No one knows how long it could take for a vaccine to become available, however.

In the meantime, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province is consulting experts and careful considering how it can balance the need to keep the province's COVID-19 caseload low while relaxing some of the stringent rules that have already been in place for about a month.

"It's bad for our health not to have school classes going on. It's bad for our health that people are unemployed. It's bad for our health that surgeries are cancelled. It's bad for our health that we can't visit our loved ones in long-term care," he said.

"This is going to be not just weeks but months and conceivably years. We must find a healthy way forward for the next 12 to 18 months."

COVID-19 graphics