Life can resume in mid-May – sort of

Some businesses, services can begin to reopen in mid-May, while large concerts, conventions could be banned for a year or more

B.C.'s economic re-opening will take place over four phases | Government of B.C.

What happened: The provincial government released guidelines on Wednesday that will shape how sectors of B.C.’s economy are to reopen over the following weeks and months.

Why it matters: The province is in the first phase of a four-phase restart plan that will stagger the reopening of the economy.

B.C.’s economy will restart in four phases, with the first order of business being the resumption of elective surgeries, personal care services – such as dentistry and hair salons – retail and the reopening of provincial parks for day use starting in mid-May.

But concerts, conventions, large professional sporting events and other large gatherings – phase four of B.C.'s restart plan – could remain banned for one to two years, with their resumption contingent on the development of a vaccine or herd immunity or a new drug to treat the COVID-19 virus.

Nightclubs and casinos have fallen into a grey zone, and it's not clear when they might be able to reopen.

“This is not a return to normal … we’re going to a new normal," said Premier John Horgan.

Road trips to other communities, for example, should not be on British Columbians' summer itineraries. Restrictions on large gatherings are also "here to stay," and B.C. will not be hosting conventions or large concerts. 

B.C.'s plan for restarting the economy and social activity sketches out the stages of what businesses, services and activities can resume in stages.

The first phase is already in effect, and covers businesses such as essential services and limited child-care services.

The second phase starts in mid-May – around May 19 – and includes:

  • small family gatherings allowed (two to six people)
  • elective surgeries, outpatient clinics and diagnostic tests
  • dentistry, physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage therapy and in-person counselling
  • hair salons and barbers
  • retail businesses
  • restaurants and pubs
  • museums, art galleries and libraries
  • provincial parks for day use
  • beaches, sports fields and other outdoor spaces
  • transit services
  • sports and recreation
  • child care
  • offices
  • some voluntary resumption of in-class instruction for K-12

The third phase will roll out between June and September, but only if COVID-19 transmission rates continue to decline or remain low. They include:

  • hotels and resorts (June)
  • provincial parks and overnight camping (June)
  • movie theatres and symphonies (July)
  • film and TV production resumes (July)

As for education, the plan envisions K-12 schools re-opening in September. Until then, there will be more use of online learning, with some limited in-class learning for K-12 and post-secondary education.

Phase four includes large concerts, conventions, festivals and other large gatherings, which won’t be allowed until there is a vaccine, a treatment or herd immunity.

It is expected that a vaccine could take a year or two before it is developed, approved and widely available.

"We've resisted announcing this plan because oftentimes that's the trigger," said Horgan. "People will open up their businesses and if no one shows up, it won't be a success. We need to make sure consumers, people, are comfortable."

"It's not quite time to get back to regular operating procedure," he said, adding that the province expects to see more businesses starting to open their doors after the Victoria Day long weekend, after they have developed re-opening plans.

The reopening of businesses may not be straight-forward. Retailers and restaurants, for example, need to demonstrate they have plans that conform to public health guidelines for things like physical distancing. Organizations will need to make their plans, processes and procedures available to the public, as well as inspectors, government and WorkSafeBC.

As for work, those who can work from home are encouraged to continue doing so. Those businesses that need to recall employees are asked to stagger shifts, or otherwise try to limit the number of employees they have at a given time in an office.

Generally speaking, workplaces and gatherings should continue to keep numbers below 50 at a time. 

As summer looms closer, Tourism Vancouver's acting CEO Ted Lee told BIV that many tourism operators continue to struggle with liquidity and viability concerns.

"While re-opening is certainly a positive, businesses will have to grapple with whether it will cost them even more to be opened given what may be strict protocols," he said.

Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, says business owners will need to acknowledge their responsibilities prior to opening.

"Once they do that, then we are opening. But realistically, I think we are still two-to-three weeks away. We don't want to rush this for the sake of being open, because it's public confidence and public safety."

BC Federation of Labour president Laird Cronk said workers need three things in order for the economy to begin moving forward in a prudent manner: safety, access to affordable child care and a safe, functioning transit system. Cronk told BIV he was happy to hear today the provincial government included transportation and transit as part of its restart plan.

He said labour is working with government, WorkSafeBC and industry to ensure workers voices are included in sectoral re-opening plans.

"Ultimately when workers are back in the workplace it’s the responsibility of the employer that [safety plans] are in place by the time they go back. [WorkSafeBC] inspections where necessary are going to be critical to ensure employers are complying with that," Cronk said.

Tomorrow, Horgan said more information will be provided on the resumption of elective surgeries and the re-opening of regulated health services. More details on K-12 school operations are expected in the days ahead.

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called the plan cautious.

“We do not want to be starting and stopping, and starting and stopping,” she said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall. We don’t know if there’s going to be a resurgence.”

View the province's restart plan on Scribd.

With files from Chuck Chiang, Glen Korstrom and Albert Van Santvoort.