Long-term care visitation to return to normal
British Columbians will no longer have to wear masks in low-risk, indoor public spaces starting Friday.

During a news conference on Thursday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said some people will continue to wear masks, and some businesses may choose to ask patrons to wear them, but they are no longer required under an order.

“We need to support that. We need to recognize that we all have our own risks and our own vulnerabilities,” Henry said.

Masks will still be required in healthcare settings, such as physician’s offices. Workplaces may still require masks to be worn, but it is no longer a requirement of workplace safety plans.

Masks will be encouraged in spaces where physical distancing is difficult to maintain, such as on public transit and on B.C. Ferries, but they will not be required.

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TransLink has issued a news release saying it will no longer require masks to be worn and is working to remove signage indicating otherwise. Customers and employees using HandyDART services, however, will still be required to wear masks.

Long-term care visitation will be restored, and facilities are expected to have their new rules in place by March 18, Henry said.

Faith gathering capacity limits will be lifted, effective 12:01 a.m. March 11.

The provincial mandate for vaccine cards — which were required in non-essential indoor spaces like restaurants and gyms — will be dropped on April 8, as long as conditions continue to improve.

“We are going to take a balanced transition approach over the next few weeks,” Henry said.

On April 8, businesses can shift from their COVID-19 safety plans to communicable disease plans. Federally regulated workplaces must continue to follow federal guidelines.

The vaccination requirement for those living in post-secondary residences will also be lifted next month.

Guidelines for schools and child-care settings will be revised and updated. Masks will no longer be required in all settings in schools after spring break.

Transmission, hospitalizations down
Henry said that while the risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 is not zero, she’s confident these changes can be made safely.

Decreased transmission, fewer hospitalizations, and high rates of vaccinations have all been reported over the past few weeks.

As of Thursday, there were 388 people in hospital with COVID-19, down more than 50 percent compared to a month ago.

The province says 90.7 percent of British Columbians aged five and up have received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 86.6 percent, a second dose. B.C. has one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world, officials say.

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Health officials say population immunity in B.C. is high, with more than 90 percent of the population believed to have either been vaccinated or likely infected.

Officials are reminding residents to continue to manage their own health by monitoring for symptoms, staying home when sick and continuing hand hygiene.

Henry also strongly encourages anyone who hasn’t yet been vaccinated to do so.

“We need to be ready and prepared for what the virus may bring next.”

Focus on surveillance
COVID-19 will be with us for years to come, Henry said, which means officials will need to monitor the situation over time.

Virus mutations, transmission and impact on the healthcare system are all things Henry and the BCCDC will be watching in months to come through lab-based genetic sequencing, wastewater testing and facility-based monitoring.

“We’re not yet in that endemic state where we know what to expect,” Henry said.

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