VANCOUVER -- With the major caveat that no one should be around anyone else when they're sick, the provincial government is telling British Columbians that they can gather in small groups by the May long weekend as it announces measures to relaxes restrictions on parks, libraries, museums and outdoor spaces in the next couple of weeks.

Health officials say families or friend groups with two to six guests can begin to gather in the next week or so.

They want everyone to think about how to do so safely and responsibly before making plans and suggest those outside their immediate "bubble" might be best kept at a physical distance for now to reduce the risk of possible transmission.

“Here’s what it could look like: grandparents visiting grandchildren, with social distancing. Playdates with kids, again, with safe social distancing,” said Premier John Horgan. “Small numbers of friends gathering outdoors or in home, again with small numbers — the key is only small gatherings and we still need to be mindful when we’re interacting with each other, especially with vulnerable people, that we keep our social circles tight.”

Hugging is a complex issue that they're having some trouble articulating a position on: while they encourage affection between family members, they caution that vulnerable people like seniors coming into contact with those going to work and being around a lot of outside people increases the risk of COVID-19 exposure.

“If my mom was here I’d want to hug her on Mothers’ Day, but these are the choices that you have to make — we’re not prescribing to British Columbians who they interact with and how they interact with them, only to say the best way to protect them is to observe social distancing, be sure you’re washing your hands regularly,” said Horgan. “If your mom’s got a compromised immune system, it’s best to keep that distance.”

Health officials are also clearing the way for day visits to parks as of May 14, full access to beaches, the ability to visit museums and libraries, as well as resumption of low-contact recreational activities and sports (like golf or baseball) by mid-May — provided sick people stay home, high-traffic surfaces are frequently cleaned and that visitors or patrons maintain their physical distance and continue to frequently wash their hands.

Officials are aiming for 60 per cent social interaction compared to normal and warn there may be a series of "lift and suppress cycles" depending on whether COVID-19 infections grow or remain stable.

If infection rates remain low and don't overwhelm the health-care system, officials say, by June 1 overnight camping could resume and movie theatres that can provide physical distancing could reopen.

Hotels and resorts could also open by June in time for the summer travel season.

The key number continues to be gatherings of fewer than 50 people (excluding workplaces), but officials caution that weddings and similar group events will have more guidance before they're permitted to resume and would still require some physical distancing measures.

Conventions and live audiences for concerts or professional sports are unlikely to take place at all until a vaccine is developed, which officials estimate would be 12 to 18 months from now.

The provincial health officer will have to formally lift public health orders for many of these activities and services to resume, but says picnics, barbecues and outside gatherings with small groups can start as soon as people have given serious thought to how much potential exposure they can handle as safely as possible -- but ideally not before the May long weekend.

“We have been successful as a province, extraordinarily successful by comparison to other jurisdictions in the world, keeping in mind this is a global pandemic,” said Horgan. “British Columbians are doing very, very well, but we can’t give up the ground we’ve made. Mothers’ Day is coming, act responsibly, be comfortable with your family, keep the gatherings small and use your common sense.”