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B.C. axing mask requirements Friday, vax cards in April

Decision comes amid falling COVID-19 cases in B.C. after record highs
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B.C.'s mask requirements in public spaces to be lifted March 11

B.C. is jumping on board with other provinces and lifting orders first thing Friday requiring people to mask up in public spaces such as Canucks games, concerts and restaurants.

The province also revealed Thursday it plans to axe vaccine cards as of April 8.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry had hinted in the past few weeks such requirements might be loosened after a review from health officials.

“Our approach has always been to only have the minimum necessary restrictions to keep people safe that prevent the transmission, particularly to those who are more susceptible to severe illness with COVID-19,” she said during a briefing Thursday, adding British Columbians should be prepared for some of these measures to return if need be.

“I recognize the changes we’re announcing today will make some people very uncomfortable.”

Masks will still be required in health-care settings, physicians’ offices and patient contact areas.

But once students and staff return from spring break in their respective school districts in the coming weeks, they will have the option of choosing whether or not to wear a mask.

While mask requirements are also being lifted for transit services, Henry said she still planned to mask up while she’s on transit and encouraged other British Columbians to do so as well.

She acknowledged that organizations such as TransLink and BC Ferries could implement their own mask or vaccine card requirements if they so wished.

Bridgitte Anderson, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, said the easing of these pandemic-era measures is “very welcome news” for the business community.

“Every workplace and individual will go at their own pace, and some businesses may decide to continue to utilize mask policies and the vaccine card longer than required by public health. It is critical that everyone exercises patience and compassion as we collectively navigate these changes,” she said in a statement.

The province is also doing away with capacity limits on faith gatherings and restrictions on overnight child and youth camps.

Long-term care visits will be restored March 18.

“Over the coming week, all the care-home operators will communicate with families around their plans,” Henry said.

“Some facilities will be ready tomorrow, others it may take a little bit longer to ramp up their ability to cope with larger numbers of visitors coming in.”

The B.C. vaccine card program had been slated to expire Jan. 31 but was instead extended that same month to June 30. Henry had said repeatedly since January that the vaccine card program could be lifted prior to June if circumstances changed.

The loosening of such restrictions come amid falling COVID-19 cases in B.C. after the province experienced record highs leading into the holidays and beyond with the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19. 

B.C. previously lifted mask requirements in June 2021 – a period during which far fewer British Columbians were vaccinated – amid declining cases. Those mask mandates were restored soon after amid growing case numbers last summer.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations have fallen for 21 consecutive data updates from the province, and more than 90 per cent of British Columbians 12 and older have received two vaccine doses as of Wednesday. 

“Our risks now are much lower. They’re not zero and we’re not fully out of this yet,” Henry said.

She also revealed that deliveries of the recently approved Novavax vaccine have been delayed after telling British Columbians last week those deliveries were expected to arrive within days.

Henry said the protein-based vaccine may not arrive until the end of March.

Last month the province said it would require all health professionals to be fully vaccinated by March 24 but Henry said it would now be taking a “more nuanced” approach to this mandate based on the type of professional.

Health professionals subject to that initial mandate ranged from dentists to massage therapists.

Henry said the province would be working with the health professional colleges to determine which specific workers would need to be fully vaccinated.
 
torton@biv.com 

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