When it comes to COVID-19 restrictions, expect 'very little change' in coming months: Henry
VANCOUVER -- Health officials are hoping to relax more of B.C.'s stringent COVID-19 restrictions in the coming weeks, but they warn major changes are likely still months away.
Asked about the government's plans for easing public health orders on Thursday, as the province looks forward to an accelerated immunization timeline, Dr. Bonnie Henry was quick to temper expectations.
"There's going to be very little change in the next two months," the provincial health officer said.
Henry pointed to the still-high number of daily COVID-19 cases being recorded across B.C., and described the current moment as a "very tenuous time."
While the average number of daily deaths related to the novel coronavirus has dropped from around 10 in the first two weeks of January to fewer than three – something officials have credited, in part, to the widespread vaccination of vulnerable seniors in care – the province's average number of daily cases is once again hovering above 500.
Henry said the province is still hoping to allow some small, in-person religious services later in March, and to potentially let youth sports resume in April.
Just last week, officials also allowed British Columbians to once again gather in consistent groups of 10 people, though only outdoors.
When it comes to allowing bigger gatherings, and more kinds of face-to-face interactions, Henry suggested it will depend on how successful the province is in keeping cases down and preventing a third wave.
She also pointed to the possible impact of COVID-19 variants of concern – though she was cautiously optimistic about the effect of B.1.1.7, which makes up the vast majority of B.C.'s 1,132 variants cases.
Henry said officials have been watching carefully to see whether the variant drives new infections, or simply replaces the viruses that were circulating previously.
"What we've learned over these last couple of weeks is that it's mostly replacements," Henry said. "That's not to say that that's not going to change if we're not careful."
The arrival of faster-spreading variants like B.1.1.7 means B.C. residents must be "more meticulous" about preventing transmission, she added.
Henry was hesitant to speculate about what kind of behaviour will be allowed moving into summer, once the province expects to have all eligible adults vaccinated, but said she's hopeful British Columbians will be back to some gatherings of up to 50 people.
"Those are the things we're thinking about as we move into summer – so how can we do safe graduations, how can we have small safe gatherings," she said.
Henry also predicted events like conferences and festivals that involve people flying in from other countries, as well as cruise ships docking in B.C., aren't likely to happen this year.
"Those things will be dangerous, because we know that the vaccine is not available equally to countries around the world," she said. "And we've said this from the beginning – the risk anywhere is a risk everywhere."