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More restrictions lifting in B.C. Thursday as province enters next step of COVID-19 restart

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More COVID-19 restrictions are lifting in B.C. this week as the province moves to Step 3 of its restart plan, health officials announced Tuesday.

The changes come into effect on Thursday, July 1, Premier John Horgan said in a news conference alongside Dr. Bonnie Henry and multiple cabinet ministers.

Henry previously said 70 per cent of B.C. adults must be at least partially vaccinated and case counts must be "low" for the province to enter the third step of its recovery plan. As of Tuesday, 80 per cent had received one dose.

"We are making very encouraging, positive progress in our COVID-19 pandemic response here in B.C.," Henry said Tuesday. "We have seen a dramatic and sustained decline in new cases across the province. As well we have seen a decline in hospitalization and deaths."

Henry said this means B.C. will end its record-breaking state of emergency due to COVID-19 on June 30 at 11:59 p.m.

"British Columbians have stepped up every step of the way during this pandemic," Horgan said. "I'm so proud, so proud to be a British Columbian based on how all of us have responded over the past 16 months."

Here's what Step 3 includes: 

Masks

In Step 3, masks in indoor public spaces will be recommended for those who aren't fully vaccinated but no longer mandated by health order. Some businesses and other public spaces may still require them, however.

"Some people may also continue to choose to wear masks and that's OK," Henry said. "We need to remember that we all need to go on our own pace and there are some reasons why we may feel more at risk or it may be important for us to continue to protect ourselves using masks."

Personal gatherings

In Step 2, limits to outdoor personal gatherings increased to 50 people but the cap on indoor personal gatherings remained at five. Under Step 3, indoor and outdoor personal gatherings will "return to normal."

"We know that these are situations where these are people that we know … we know the risk, we know the vaccination status, we can invite people into our home based on our risk and the risk of those around us," Henry explained. "It is up to us to decide who we have in our home now."

Henry reiterated that "everyone needs to move at their own pace."

Organized gatherings

Once again, capacity is increasing for both indoor and outdoor organized gatherings. In Step 3, outdoor events can have as many as 5,000 people. Indoor events can have 50 people or up to 50 per cent capacity, whichever is larger. Fairs and festivals - or what Henry called "flow-through events" - can return to normal, as long as they have a COVID-19 plan in place.

Travel

Step 2 saw the ban on recreational travel within B.C. be lifted. Under Step 3, recreational travel across Canada is permitted. However, residents will need to check with other provinces' rules and guidelines on visitors before travelling.

Henry said people should also still be cautious until they're fully vaccinated.

"Not every community is ready yet to receive visitors, but many, many are," she said.

Businesses

Under Step 3, group size limits may vary by sector and socializing between tables won't be permitted. Liquor service restrictions are also being lifted. According to the health ministry's website, casinos and nightclubs will be able to reopen with COVID-19 measures in place, including capacity limits. At nightclubs, up to 10 people can be seated at tables, but dancing still isn't permitted.

Sports and exercise

All indoor fitness classes are permitted under Step 3, at the usual capacity. Spectators can watch indoor sports, though with some limits.

The top doctor first announced the province's four-step recovery plan last month. The earliest B.C. will lift more restrictions and enter Step 4 of its restart plan is Sept. 7. 

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