COVID-19 rules: Some restrictions might be lifted once B.C.'s vaccine cards are fully implemented

B.C. may lift some COVID-19 restrictions next month, when the province's proof-of-vaccination program is fully implemented.

The update came from Dr. Bonnie Henry during an afternoon news conference Tuesday about B.C.'s vaccine card system.

“I really look forward to seeing a full hockey game sometime in the fall or early next winter,” Henry said.

The system will begin Sept. 13, at which time visitors to non-essential businesses such as restaurants and movie theatres will need at least one dose to enter. By Oct. 24, they'll need to have both doses, and won't be considered fully vaccinated for seven days after the second shot.

Until then, the mask mandate and current capacity limits are expected to remain. Depending on the violation, fines of $230, $575 or $2,300 can be handed out for breaking a public health order.

"These (orders) will supplement what we need to do right now as we're moving forward with the B.C. vaccine card," Henry said.

"What we hope as we move through these next few months with the B.C. vaccine card is once it is only immunized people who are at these discretionary events, these social events, these businesses, we'll be able to remove those capacity limits because we know that we've mitigated the risk of so much transmission."  

The B.C. government initially hoped to enter Step 4 of its restart plan on Tuesday, though that has been put on hold due to a spike in COVID-19 cases fuelled by the highly contagious Delta variant. 

Step 4 is the final stage in the province's COVID-19 recovery plan. Personal gatherings, organized gatherings and workplaces would all "return to normal" in that phase. Instead of COVID-19 safety plans, businesses, exercise facilities and sports could operate with communicable disease prevention guidance.

Social contact would be back to normal and mask wearing would be a personal choice, but people would still be asked to stay home when sick and get tested if COVID-19 symptoms develop.

B.C.’s independent COVID-19 Modelling Group, made up of academics and scientists from a number of post-secondary institutions in the province, would like to see the province take a cautious approach to any easing of restrictions.

"This is not the time for us, vaccinated or not, to take many risks because we're really trying to protect our community and get the transmissions down to a place that's more manageable,” said Dr. Sarah Otto, the Canada Research Chair in Theoretical and Experimental Evolution.

Henry said officials are looking at balancing restrictions to get through the fall with the minimum number of disruptions.

"We can mitigate this risk a lot by having people immunized," she said. "I am hopeful that we will transition over the next few months and by Oct. 24, if we get enough people to step up and get protected … that we'll be able to increase the numbers of people so that we will be somewhere near what we had envisioned in Step 4 of the restart."

The original criteria set out by the government for entering Step 4 of the restart plan included getting 70 per cent of the adult population vaccinated with at least one dose, as well as keeping case counts and hospitalization numbers low.

Health Minister Adrian Dix noted weeks ago the province easily passed the first target earlier this summer, but said the Delta variant threw a wrench into B.C.'s progress on the other two fronts. 

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Andrew Weichel and Kendra Mangione