British Columbia lifts more COVID-19 restrictions: A list of what’s gone and when

British Columbia is dropping its mask mandate on March 11 and the vaccine pass requirement on April 8 – two in a series of repealed restrictions.

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On Thursday, provincial health official Dr. Bonnie Henry said the mask mandate that demonstrates while we’re in a pandemic would begin to be lifted on Friday, and Colombia’s vaccine card entry proof Columbia in many indoor spaces would go the way of the Dodo bird a month later. Full visits will soon be allowed in long-term care facilities (provided the guest is vaccinated), restrictions on religious gatherings will be lifted and overnight children’s camps will be allowed again.

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Henry said these decisions are based on the steady decline in the number of hospitalizations since the highly infectious variant of Omicron took hold in late December 2021 and the province’s high vaccination rate. Death rates remain constant and cases have fallen – although the government admits case data is flawed due to limited PCR testing. The government is now relying on people using rapid home tests. The pandemic has not been officially declared over. When it is, COVID-19 will be considered endemic – widespread but manageable and not subject to strict public health orders.

Here’s a look at these key game-changing rule changes in British Columbia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Repealed Mask Mandate

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What: On August 25, 2021 (17 months after the pandemic was declared in British Columbia), Henry said masks should again be worn in all indoor public places in the province after a spike in cases. This included people aged 12 and over, regardless of their vaccination status, and was later expanded to include children aged five and over in schools.

When: The mask mandate will be repealed in two phases.

Phase 1 begins Friday, March 11 at 12:01 a.m. and applies to almost all indoor public places, including pubs, cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, libraries and community centres.

This also applies to workers who will no longer have to wear a mask if they do not wish to.

Henry says people may want to continue wearing a mask depending on their personal choice.

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Phase 2 applies to students in the K-12 system, where mask-wearing will no longer be required when children return from spring break. This date will vary accordingly.

Exceptions: Masks must always be worn at Vancouver International Airport – and at other Canadian airports – as these are jurisdictions in which mask rules have not been removed federally. You will always be required to wear a mask in healthcare settings like doctor’s offices and patient contact areas as well as on the HandiDART bus service. You will not need to wear a mask on public transport, but you will still be required to wear a mask in any courtroom in British Columbia.

British Columbia vaccination card removed

What: The BC Vaccine Card – used primarily via a QR code on mobile phones – was introduced in mid-September 2021 to ensure that only vaccinated people can enter most indoor public places. The mandate did not include essential businesses like grocery stores, libraries and liquor stores. But if you wanted to sit in a restaurant or pub, they were essential.

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When: As of April 8, the vaccine card will no longer be required to enter indoor public places. However, Henry said that date was subject to the pandemic not getting worse. She said individual businesses might still need a vaccine passport to enter their premises.

Easing of visitation restrictions in long-term care facilities

What: Residents of long-term care facilities have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, being the hardest hit since it began with the Lynn Valley Care Center outbreak in March 2020 that claimed 20 lives.

One of Henry’s first steps was to strictly limit the number of visitors a resident could have and the frequency.

As the pandemic progressed, these rules changed to allow one designated visitor, then changed again to allow a second person.

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When: As of March 18, visiting policies at long-term care facilities will be restored to what they were before Omicron appeared in late 2021. Visitors will still need to be vaccinated and will also need to take a COVID- 19 quickly when they arrived. The goal is “to increase visitation and opportunities for connection between residents and families, while continuing to protect those we know are most vulnerable to serious illness.”

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