B.C. lifting capacity limits, reopening bars and allowing dancing

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Packed stadiums, indoor weddings, nightclubbing and big family gatherings are returning to British Columbia.

Government officials have announced they're lifting several of the province's COVID-19 restrictions at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, allowing many activities that have been off-limits since December – and in some cases, much longer – to resume.

Bars and nightclubs will reopen, with patrons dancing and mingling between tables. Organized events such as wedding and funeral receptions will move back indoors. And all of those businesses and venues will be operating at full capacity, along with movie theatres, performance spaces and sports arenas.

Officials are also removing all limits on household gatherings – allowing hosting at home to "return to normal," according to the province's plans.

Premier John Horgan credited the public's broad compliance with the various health orders for making the dramatic shift in approach possible.

"All of us have made sacrifices," Horgan said at a news conference Tuesday. "I believe it's that collective effort that's put us in the position today where we can relieve these restrictions and look forward to better days ahead."

Masks will still be mandatory at indoor public spaces and proof of vaccination will continue to be required for many discretionary activities. Even those measures, considered cornerstones of the province's COVID-19 mitigation strategy, are scheduled to be reviewed in mid-March, and again in April.

The pending changes are happening much quicker than some critics had hoped.

Earlier in the day, Dr. Sally Otto of the independent B.C. COVID-19 Modelling Group suggested the situation in hospitals remains too precarious for an aggressive reopening plan.

"I am hoping for a gradual reopening that is in line with hospitalization numbers," Otto told CTV Morning Live, noting there are still "very high numbers of people in hospital and dying at the moment."

There were 803 coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized across the province as of Monday afternoon, though that includes hundreds who were admitted for other reasons and only tested positive incidentally.

Last week, B.C.'s rolling seven-day average for COVID-19 deaths also reached a 13-month high of 13 deaths per day. It has since dropped to about eight per day.

Otto acknowledged the Omicron wave is subsiding, however. And provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said widespread vaccination has paved the way for the government's shift to a long-term COVID-19 management strategy focused on personal responsibility, along with some "specific actions to protect those most at risk of severe infection."

More than 90 per cent of British Columbians age 12 and older have received at least two doses of vaccine. And while the Omicron variant has proven effective at spreading between people who are fully immunized, officials stressed that growing evidence shows it decreases the risk of transmission, and particularly of death and other severe outcomes.