From Hugs to Hockey, British Columbia Plans a Return to Normal

British Columbia, whose economy weathered the pandemic better than much of Canada, said it foresees a return to “normal life” as it announced plans to lift most restrictions by the fall.

The western province on Tuesday released a four-stage plan that could see offices fully reopened, sporting events and concerts allowed, and constraints on travel lifted by September.

“This is indeed a good day and one that I’ve been waiting for for a long time,” said Bonnie Henry, the province’s top health officer, her voice audibly breaking as she teared up at a press conference.

From Hugs to Hockey, British Columbia Plans a Return to Normal

The reopening will be based on data, and dates and rules could change depending on new outbreaks. But Henry’s message was upbeat, saying she hopes to see a BC Hug Day, an in-person game for the Vancouver Canucks hockey club and a resumption of travel in the months ahead.

All that is possible because vaccination is having a dramatic impact, according to Henry. “Immunization is the tool that will get us out of the pandemic,” she said. “We can control it now in a way that we couldn’t.”

More than 60% of adults have been vaccinated with their first dose, having a measurable impact on the spread of the virus, according to Henry. The seven-day average of cases has plummeted more than 65% from a mid-April peak and hospitalization rates are down by a third this month. Canada is delaying second doses by as much as four months in order to inoculate more people amid a shortage of vaccine supplies.

British Columbia began to immediately ease some rules on Tuesday, allowing indoor dining and low-intensity fitness classes to resume and a gradual return to offices -- another step in boosting an economy that’s proved resilient. The province has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country at 7.1%, the housing market has set records, and manufacturing sales and the forestry sector are on a tear, according to Bryan Yu, chief economist of Central 1 Credit Union.

“We have made tremendous strides with our vaccination program, and we are now in a position where we can move forward with a plan to slowly bring us back together,” said B.C. Premier John Horgan.

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