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B.C. lifting capacity limits, reopening bars and allowing dancing, but vaccine passport to stay


Packed stadiums, indoor weddings, busy nightclubs and big family gatherings are returning to British Columbia.

Government officials have announced they're lifting several of the province's COVID-19 restrictions at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, allowing many activities that have been off-limits since December – and in some cases, much longer – to resume.

Bars and nightclubs will reopen, with patrons dancing and mingling between tables. Organized events such as wedding and funeral receptions will move back indoors. And all of those businesses and venues will be operating at full capacity, along with movie theatres, performance spaces and sports arenas.

Officials are also removing limits on household gatherings – allowing hosting at home to "return to normal," according to the province's plans.

Premier John Horgan credited the public's broad compliance with existing health orders for making the dramatic shift in approach possible.

"All of us have made sacrifices," Horgan said at a news conference Tuesday. "I believe it's that collective effort that's put us in the position today where we can relieve these restrictions and look forward to better days ahead."

Masks will remain mandatory at indoor public spaces and proof of vaccination will continue to be required for many discretionary activities. Even those measures, considered cornerstones of the province's COVID-19 mitigation strategy, are scheduled to be reviewed in mid-March, and again in April.

The pending changes are happening much quicker than some critics had hoped.

Earlier in the day, Dr. Sally Otto of the independent B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group suggested the situation in hospitals remains too precarious for an aggressive reopening plan.

"I am hoping for a gradual reopening that is in line with hospitalization numbers," Otto told CTV Morning Live. "People are getting impatient, but now's not the time to get impatient."

There were 803 coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized across the province as of Monday afternoon, though that includes hundreds who were admitted for other reasons and only tested positive incidentally.

Last week, B.C.'s rolling seven-day average for COVID-19 deaths also reached a 13-month high of 13 deaths per day. It has since dropped to about eight per day.

Otto noted there has been much “divisiveness in the air," along with increasing pressure on politicians to relax COVID-19 measures and remove mandates. Disruptive trucker convoy protests have raised the temperature across Canada, though B.C. officials have been adamant the demonstrations have done nothing to alter their approach.

Horgan addressed the protests Tuesday, thanking the "90 per cent of truckers" who remain on the job delivering essential supplies across the country.

Of the others, he said: "We can agree to disagree, but we should not be disagreeable."

Even experts who remain squeamish about lifting restrictions acknowledge the Omicron wave is subsiding. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry argued widespread vaccination – B.C. has fully immunized more than 90 per cent of residents age 12 and older – has paved the way for the government's shift to a long-term COVID-19 management strategy focused on personal responsibility, along with "specific actions to protect those most at risk of severe infection."

"We know that remains our elders, our seniors, people who have immune-compromising conditions," Henry said.

For others, she pointed to the growing body of evidence that vaccination against COVID-19 decreases the risk of transmission, and particularly of death and other severe outcomes.

But even as the province takes major steps toward returning to normal life, Henry cautioned that the pandemic is far from over.

"We know there will be continuing pressure on this virus to mutate into a new variant – a variant that may cause more serious illness, a variant that may evade some of the immune benefits that we have right now," she said. Top Stories

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