Next incubation period 'critical' to B.C. relaxing more restrictions on July 1, officials say
VANCOUVER -- The B.C. government is relaxing more COVID-19 restrictions this week, and the next few days could determine whether additional measures are lifted in July.
Officials have confirmed the province is entering Step 2 of its restart plan on Tuesday, allowing for unrestricted travel across B.C., outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people, and more.
Premier John Horgan called the announcement "very positive news for all British Columbians," but noted the impact those loosened rules have on COVID-19 case numbers will dictate whether the province proceeds into Step 3 less than three weeks later, as tentatively scheduled.
"It's appropriate for all of us to take pride in what we've accomplished collectively. Businesses, communities, individuals, families have made extraordinary sacrifices," Horgan said.
"Come July 1, I'm hopeful we'll be able to further relieve these restrictions, but we need that incubation period – we need that critical couple of weeks to assess the impact of the steps we're taking today."
The symptoms of COVID-19, which can include coughing, fever and shortness of breath, take up to 14 days to appear.
The public can help keep case numbers trending downward by following the restrictions and guidelines left in place, officials said. Masks remain mandatory in indoor public spaces, and British Columbians are still only allowed to host a maximum of five visitors (or one household) inside for things like dinner parties.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said physical distancing and staying home while sick are also important tools for keeping transmission low. And she encouraged people to be mindful that not everyone will feel comfortable taking advantage of the relaxed restrictions right away.
"We still do have transmission in our communities," Henry said. "As we continue to open up, we need to be respectful of people in communities with different comfort levels and different risk levels."
The government's restart plan indicates cases must be "low" and hospitalizations "declining" before the province can enter Step 3. The criteria for having 70 per cent of B.C. adults at least partially vaccinated has already been met.
There have been concerns raised that the Delta COVID-19 variant, also known as B.1.617.2, could throw a wrench into the province's progress. The government has once again started conducting whole genome sequencing on every coronavirus case in B.C. to more precisely monitor the spread of variants.
Earlier on Monday, officials in the U.K. blamed the Delta variant for their decision to extend lockdown measures for another month, though Henry noted the circumstances are different in B.C., where more young people have been partially immunized against the disease.
"A lot of transmission that they're seeing right now in the U.K. is in people in their teens and 20s and 30s," she added. "We have very high immunization rates in those age groups already."
More than 75 per cent of B.C. adults have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine so far, something that officials have credited for helping decreased the province's rolling weekly average for new cases from an all-time high of 1,130 per day back in April to just 161 as of Friday.
Henry said she's confident the province will continue to make progress battling the disease.
"I am optimistic about our brighter days ahead," Henry said. "This will be our summer of hope and healing from this pandemic. And we can make the difference in getting there together."