B.C. lifting indoor mask mandate Friday

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B.C. is lifting its mask mandate for indoor public spaces Friday and the use of vaccine passports will no longer be required in the coming weeks, health officials announced Thursday.

Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix gave the update in the afternoon, and shared a timeline for when other health measures will be lifted.

"Together we have done what is right at the right time and now we are in a place where we can once again adjust our approach," Henry said, adding that case counts continue to decrease, as seen by testing and wastewater surveillance.

"With the science and the data top of mind, it clearly shows that our risks now are much lower. They're not zero, and we're not fully out of this yet, but I feel confident that we can safely make some further changes."

As of Friday at 12:01 a.m., the province’s face coverings order will be repealed, but not everywhere.

"Some settings will still require that you wear a mask for example for health-care settings, physicians' offices, patient contacts," Henry said. "But most low-risk locations, it will now be an option and no longer a necessity."

Henry said it's "critical" that everyone move at their own pace.

"While masks are no longer required or mandated under an order as of tomorrow, some people and some locations will continue to use masks personally or in their business, and that's OK," she said. "We need to support that, we need to recognize that, we all have our own risks and our own vulnerabilities."

Henry also said masks are encouraged in places where it's difficult to distance from others, like on public transit or BC Ferries.

Friday's changes will also see capacity limits for faith gatherings lifted. As well, visits to long-term care homes will be restored starting March 18, though some limits will remain. Overnight youth camps will be permitted again.

A few weeks later, more restrictions will be removed, as long as case counts and conditions continue to improve. Most notably, the B.C. Vaccine Card will no longer be required to access discretionary businesses and events, like restaurants, sports games and movie theatres as of April 8 at 12:01 a.m. The requirement for vaccines in post-secondary residences will also be removed.

On that day, businesses will transition from a COVID-19 safety plan to a general communicable disease plan.

Thursday's update revealed nearly 91 per cent of B.C. residents aged 12 and older have had two COVID-19 vaccine doses. More than 56 per cent in that age category have gotten a third dose.

"I'm incredibly grateful to the millions of people throughout our province for your willingness and support in adopting our COVID-19 safety measures," Henry said. "Your efforts combined with these high vaccination rates have saved countless lives."

B.C. reintroduced its mask mandate for indoor public spaces on Aug. 24, when the Delta variant was leading to an increase in cases. The day before that, B.C.'s Vaccine Card was announced and it was implemented in mid-September.