Restarting social and economic activity in British Columbia won’t be like flipping a switch, said Premier John Horgan on Wednesday, May 6 as he introduced B.C.’s four-phase Restart Plan.
“This is not a return to normal,” Horgan said. “We’re going to the new normal.”
Under the restart plan, government will work closely with public health officials, businesses and labour organizations to lift restrictions in phases, gradually allowing for more social and economic activity, while closely monitoring health information to minimize the risk to the public.
“Our plan puts safety first. British Columbians have made enormous sacrifices so far, and it’s thanks to them that we’re able to begin to lift some restrictions,” Horgan said. “We’ll allow activities to resume as the evidence and experts tell us it is appropriate to do so. By moving carefully and deliberately, we will help British Columbians get to a ‘new normal,’ where more of our social and economic life can resume.”
A Restart Plan Unique to B.C.
Restarting economic activity will look different in B.C. than in other jurisdictions, because only a small number of sectors in the province were actually closed by public health order. Many other provinces are just now reaching the level of safe operations B.C. has been able to maintain throughout the pandemic.
B.C. is currently in Phase 1 of the restart plan. Phase 2, which will begin in mid-May, includes:
- small social gatherings (gathering of more than 50 will remain banned indefinitely due to the increased risk of virus spread);
- a resumption of elective surgeries and regulated health services like physiotherapy, dentistry, chiropractors and in-person counselling;
- provincial parks open for day use;
- opening more non-essential businesses in keeping with safe operations plans;
- recalling the provincial legislature for regular sittings.
Horgan said essential businesses that have remained open during the pandemic, so far, have done so safely with the support of WorkSafeBC. Government plan to build on this by supporting all businesses as they take steps toward a successful reopening. Sectors that were ordered closed will be asked to work with WorkSafeBC to develop plans to reopen safely. WorkSafeBC is developing industry-specific guidance to help employers bring workers and customers back safely. Any business restarting operations must ensure it is in compliance with the provincial health officer’s orders and in accordance with occupational health and safety guidance provided by WorkSafeBC.
“We know the path to recovery will be long and steep and for some sectors it will take longer than others,” said Val Litwin, CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce, “but today’s news is the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ that many small businesses operators have been waiting for.”
“We shouldn’t interpret today’s announcements as news that the pandemic is behind us: our members know that the health and safety of their teams and customers will be the first priority in this new operating environment,” adds Litwin. “Businesses will need to adjust their operating best practices to meet the guidance of the Provincial Health Officer and WorkSafeBC …”
Toward Phases 3 and 4
Horgan said the target date for the start of Phase 3, which will include opening up of additional businesses and services, is between June and September 2020, if transmission rates remain low or in decline.
The premier emphasized phase 4 will only be achieved when the threat of COVID-19 has been significantly diminished through widespread vaccination, broad successful treatments, evidence of community immunity, or the equivalent.
A strong emphasis on personal hygiene for all British Columbians, including hand washing, physical distancing and staying at home if you are sick, will be crucial for the success of every phase of the plan.
While B.C. already has sufficient testing and tracking capacity, by continuing to increase these, government will be able to identify any flare ups in COVID-19 case numbers and address them. This approach will support public safety and confidence.
“Today, we’ve unveiled our plan for a slow and safe restart. We need to be vigilant, to make sure we keep flattening the curve of transmission,” Premier Horgan said. “There is much more to do. But we will get through this pandemic to better days by working together and keeping each other safe.”
For more information about B.C.’s Restart Plan: www.gov.bc.ca/restartbc
For a WorkSafeBC backgrounder: https://news.gov.bc.ca/files/BG_Support_for_Workplaces_Resuming_Operation.pdf