Will COVID-19 restrictions come back in B.C.? Top doctor says no

B.C. will likely see a spike in COVID-19 infections in the fall but the province's top doctor says she doesn’t anticipate bringing back restrictions.

In an update Tuesday, Dr. Bonnie Henry said health officials are already anticipating what might come with colder weather and the next cold and flu season.

"I think we're going to be in a period of relative ease for the next little while. But we all have to pay attention to what might happen in the fall," she said. "We need to be prepared that we're going to see a surge."

However, she said the province is unlikely to see a return to mask mandates, limits on gatherings or other measures the province has brought in at previous points in the pandemic.

"There are things that we'll have to go back to, to remember. I hope and I expect that we'll never have to put in orders again that require people to do those things like we did when we didn't know what was going on over the last two and a half years," she said.

"But we will rely on each other to take those measures when we start to see an increase in transmission again."

Henry also said she expects to see more influenza circulating this fall and winter because people are travelling and socializing more freely than they have since the pandemic was first declared.

"We need to plan for what's coming. I’m concerned and working with my team to look at what are the possible scenarios that we may face given our situation, our demographics, and our immunity levels here when we get into the next respiratory season," she said.

This look forward came amid reminders from Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix that the virus is still causing hospitalizations and deaths. Henry noted the more than one million recorded deaths in the U.S. as a grim reminder of the toll the disease can take.

"If we look around Canada, we have not had that level of devastation, that tragedy. But we've had enough," Henry said.

Both repeatedly called on British Columbians to get vaccinated and boosted in order to protect against severe illness. More than a million people who have been invited to book a third dose have not yet done so, they said.

Henry also noted how widespread infection has become since the arrival of the Omicron variant in the province and the lifting of restrictions.

"As we come together more frequently with more people, the virus has more opportunity to spread. And we are seeing that, I don't think anybody I know hasn't known somebody who has had it," Henry said, although she did say she herself has not yet been infected.

Dix said the commonness of infection is still putting strain on the health-care system, although not to the same extent as during the early peak of the Omicron wave. Patients are still being hospitalized, and sickness-related absences are still causing staffing issues.

"It is still having effects. Those effects are different but they continue to challenge our health-care system and health-care professionals and health-care workers everywhere."