BC’s Attempt to Halt the Spread of COVID-19: What the New Orders Mean for You and Your Business

Last update: June 15, 2021

In an attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19 in BC, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry issued several public health orders restricting social interactions and business operations within the province.

On May 25, 2021 BC introduced a four-step reopening plan titled BC’s Restart: A plan to bring us back together (the “Plan”). The end goal of the Plan is for BC to lift virtually all public health orders by September 7, 2021. Each of the four steps of the Plan will remove further restrictions. However, each step is contingent on the decline of COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations, and on a higher percentage of the population becoming vaccinated.

BC entered Step 1 of the Plan on May 25, 2021 and entered Step 2 of the Plan on June 15, 2021. The following is a summary of the restrictions (and some permissions) currently in place, the majority of which can be found in the Gatherings and Events Order. For more information please refer to the BC Government’s webpage here.

For more information on each of the four steps in the Plan and the corresponding removal of restrictions at each step, please refer to the BC Government’s webpage here.

Orders and Recommendations

Masks

Masks and physical distancing measures remain mandatory.

According to Ministerial Order No. M012, masks are required in all public indoor settings and retail stores. Masks are also strongly recommended in shared workplaces and living areas, such as in elevators, hallways, and break rooms.

A face shield is not a mask.

Mask removal is permitted for a variety of reasons, including for identification purposes, for the consumption of food and beverages at a location designated for those purposes, and for communication with a person who has a hearing impairment.

The following people are exempt from the requirement to wear masks:

  • those who are unable to wear a mask due to a health condition;

  • those who cannot put on or remove a mask on their own; and

  • children under the age of 12 .

Individuals who do not wear a mask, refuse to comply with the direction of an enforcement officer, and respond with abusive or belligerent behavior, will be subject to a $230 fine.

Workplaces

Most businesses and workplaces can remain open as long as they have a COVID-19 safety plan in place. However, workplaces with a COVID-19 exposure that leads to transmission may be ordered to close for a minimum of ten days (larger workplaces may only be ordered to close the specific location where transmission occurred). Certain workplaces, such as police stations and shelters, will be exempt from such closure orders.

Workplaces must screen their employees on a daily basis. Workplaces must also:

  • ensure that all workers and customers wear masks in common areas;

  • remind employees to monitor themselves daily and to stay at home if they have symptoms; and

  • make every effort to provide work from home options.

Retailers

Retail businesses are required to establish capacity restrictions based on five square meters of unencumbered space per person, post occupancy limits and directional signs where practical to do so, and make hand sanitization options readily available for patrons.

Individuals must not enter retail businesses if advised by the owner or a staff member that they cannot be accommodated safely, and must leave if requested to do so on this basis.

Restaurants

According to the Food and Liquor Serving Premises Order, indoor and outdoor dining is allowed with capacity limits based on physical distancing requirements and other rules, including a maximum of six people per table (not restricted to one household or bubble). Masks must be worn when not at a table and events are prohibited. WorkSafeBC will continue to conduct inspections to verify that restaurants have effective COVID-19 safety plans in place.

Limited Social Interaction

Outdoor personal gatherings of up to 50 people are permitted. Indoor personal gatherings of up to five people or one other household are also permitted.

Religious Gatherings

In-person religious gatherings and worship services of up to 50 people may be held indoors or outdoors. Individuals are permitted to visit places of worship for activities such as individual contemplation or prayer. Religious leaders may also attend the homes of members of their religious communities to provide religious services to the occupant. 

Pursuant to the Variance for Indoor Worship Services, participants of indoor religious services must wear masks and must be 2 meters apart unless they are from the same household. Masks may be removed in specific instances such as reading out loud during service but there must be a three meter separation between the reader and other participants or a physical barrier which blocks the transmission of droplets. Up to four additional people may be present to ensure compliance with the rules.

Pursuant to the Variance for Outdoor Worship Services, outdoor religious services are permitted at this time, with a maximum of 50 people in attendance, plus an additional four people to ensure rules are being followed. Attendees must complete a self-health check prior to attending, and stay home if they have symptoms.

Attendees of either indoor or outdoor worship services who do not live in the same private residence must remain two meters apart, and avoid gathering or socially engaging before, during, and after the service. Organizers must collect information for contact tracing, supply hand sanitizer, and caution those at higher risk from attending. Guidance for holding low risk worship services both indoors and outdoors can be found here.

Musical groups of up to five musicians may perform at outdoor services. However, only soloists and worship leaders can sing, and only worship leaders can chant.

Everyone in attendance must wear a mask, except:

  • soloists when singing;

  • worship leaders when speaking, singing or chanting;

  • a reader when reading out loud during the service;

  • musicians who must remove their mask to play their instrument;

  • those who are temporarily consuming food or drink provided during and for the purpose of worship;

  • children under the age of 12; and

  • those who cannot wear a mask due to a condition or impairment.

Schools

Schools will remain open. All staff and students in grades 4-12 must wear a mask in indoor areas, including at desks and on school busses.

Events and Gatherings

Indoor seated organized gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed with a COVID-19 safety plan in place. For example, indoor weddings, baptisms and funerals may proceed with a maximum of 50 people, including the officiant. The event organizer and staff present at the event are not included in the 50 people limit. However, if the event organizer also acts as the officiant, that person is included in the ten people limit.

Outdoor organized gatherings and associated receptions of up to 50 people, including the officiant, are permitted with a COVID-19 safety plan in place. For example:

  • a small outdoor concert;
  • an outdoor wedding ceremony; or
  • an outdoor live theatre performance.

Exercise and Fitness Centers

Indoor high intensity and low intensity group exercise is permitted with certain restrictions. Providers and participants of indoor group exercise must follow the Indoor Exercise Requirements found here. For example, each exercise room/space must have at least seven square meters of unencumbered floor space per person, and there is a maximum occupancy of 25 people per room/space for group exercise.

Individual exercise at gyms and recreation facilities can continue, as long as the facility offering these services strictly follows a COVID-19 Safety Plan. Requirements can be found here.

Sports

All outdoor and indoor group sports for adults and youth are permitted. This includes games, competitions and practices. Travel for sport is also permitted.

Up to 50 spectators are permitted at outdoor sport activities. Spectators are not permitted at any indoor sport activities. Individuals who provide care to participants or players, such as first aid providers, are not classified as spectators and can continue attending sporting events.

Youth Extracurricular Activities

Structured extracurricular activities for people 21 years of age and younger, such as music and art classes, can continue with a COVID-19 Safety Plan in place if they are supervised by an adult and are limited to 50 people. Performances, recitals and demonstrations have been suspended.

Travel

Recreational travel within BC is permitted. This includes travel for:

  • vacations, weekend getaways and tourism activities;
  • visiting family or friends for social reasons; and
  • recreation activities.

BC Ferries is welcoming all passengers back on board and all BC Ferries routes are now open to all types of travel. Masks remain mandatory inside terminals and on board ferries in indoor and outdoor spaces when not inside a vehicle.

More information about these travel restrictions is available on BC Government’s webpage here.

Other

Whistler Blackcomb ski resort is open for summer operations in accordance with public health orders and guidelines.

Other permitted activities include:

  • personal and home-based services, such as hair and nail salons, cleaning services, house repair, tutoring and music lessons, and home care for disabled individuals;
  • formal meetings, such as city-council meetings, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, group support meetings, and business meetings; and
  • rental and home sale viewings, with a maximum of six people in attendance and masks worn.

Perimeter seating vehicles and busses are permitted to operate, subject to restrictions respecting hours of operation and physical distancing.

Impact on Businesses

Businesses should continually confirm whether their particular service has been restricted and proceed accordingly. Businesses that are permitted to remain open should frequently revisit their COVID-19 Safety Plans and update them in accordance with the orders. A helpful guideline is available here.

Businesses are required to implement a daily screening procedure for all onsite employees. Other things to consider include:

  • A mask policy;
  • Improved physical distancing guidelines;
  • A work-from-home policy, if appropriate; and
  • More stringent requirements in small office spaces, break rooms and kitchens.

Businesses should also discourage informal gathering among employees outside of the workplace.

Businesses that have closed due to COVID-19 should check to see if they are eligible to receive rent support here.

Available Fines and Enforcement Measures

Applicable fines pursuant to the legislation are as follows:

Offence

Penalty

Contravention of the Public Health Act by, among other things,

· failing to provide information;

· failing to take or provide preventive measures;

· failing to comply with an order;

· failing to take emergency preventive measures; or

· failing to make a report in an emergency;

· A fine not exceeding $25,000 and/or up to six months’ imprisonment.[1]

· Administrative penalties, such as an order to pay compensation or perform community service.[2]

Contravention of the Public Health Act:

· failing to prevent or respond to health hazards;

· failing to train or equip employees;

· failing to comply with a requirement or duty;

· failing to comply with the regulations;

· knowingly providing false or misleading information to a person exercising a power or performing a duty under it; or

· willfully interfering with, or obstructs a person who is exercising a power or performing a duty under it.

· A fine not exceeding $200,000 and/or up to six months’ imprisonment.[3]

· Administrative penalties, such as an order to pay compensation or perform community service.[4]

Contravention of the Public Health Act by:

· causing a health hazard

· failing to provide a designated quarantine facility

· A fine not exceeding $3,000,000 and/or up to 36 months’ imprisonment.[5]

· Administrative penalties, such as an order to pay compensation or perform community service.[6]

Contravention of the Emergency Program Act  or interference with or obstruction of any person in the exercise of any power or performance of any duty under it.

· A fine not exceeding $10,000 and/or up to one year of imprisonment.[7]

[1]Public Health Act, ss. .99(1), 108(1)(a)

[2]Public Health Act, s. 107.

[3]Public Health Act, ss. 99(2) and (4), and s. 108(1)(b).

[4]Public Health Act, s. 107.

[5]Public Health Act, ss. 99(3), 108(1)(c).

[6]Public Health Act, s. 107.

[7]Public Health Act, s. 27.

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