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

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. These health orders are in place until further notice. 

Dr. Henry amended the orders on March 29, 2021, further restricting activity in the province. The amendments will expire on May 25.

The following is a summary of the restrictions currently in place, the majority of which can be found in the Gathering and Events Order. For more information, please refer to the BC Government’s webpage here.

Orders and Recommendations

Masks

According to the 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 be ordered to close only 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, restaurants, pubs, bars, and food courts must close for indoor dining until May 25. Outdoor patio seating and takeout/delivery is still permitted.

Limited Social Interaction

No one is permitted to gather indoors with anyone outside of their immediate household or “core bubble” for social purposes. If you live alone, your “core bubble” can include a maximum of two relatives, friends, partners, or co-parents who happen to live in a different household.

Permitted activities include:

  • gathering outdoors with up to ten people outside your “core bubble”, though individuals should stick to the same ten people and avoid gathering with multiple groups;
  • grandparents providing childcare;
  • carpool arrangements to and from school; and
  • welcoming a child home from university.

Religious Gatherings

Indoor religious gatherings are prohibited. However, 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 Outdoor Worship Services, outdoor religious services are permitted at this time, with a maximum of 50 people in attendance, plus an extra two 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 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.

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

Cultural events have been suspended. These include, but are not limited to, galas, musicals, theatre performances, silent auctions, and movie viewings in cinemas.

Permitted events and gatherings include:

  • drive-in and drop-off events, such as religious services and toy drives, with a maximum of 50 cars in attendance and a COVID-19 Safety Plan in place. Attendees must stay in their cars, and hosts must maintain physical distancing, control the entry and exit points, and avoid congestion of cars or people;
  • meals for people in need, such as soup kitchens, with a maximum of 50 people in attendance; and
  • access to and use of public pools and public skating rinks with a COVID-19 Safety Plan in place, unless associated with an event.

Exercise and Fitness Centers

High-intensity group fitness activities, such as spin classes, hot yoga, and high intensity interval training sessions are prohibited until further notice.

Low-intensity group physical activities, such as yoga, pilates, and adult dance classes are prohibited until May 25.

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.

Indoor and outdoor sports for people over the age of 22 are prohibited, with the following exceptions:

  • up to two people may engage in indoor sports with one another; and
  • up to ten people may engage in outdoor sports with one another.

Indoor and outdoor sports for people under the age of 21 are permitted, but games, tournaments, and competitions have been suspended. Participants must maintain three meters of physical distance from one another.  

Spectators are not permitted to attend 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. Travel for sports has also been suspended.

High performance athletes are unaffected by the order, as long as they continue to follow the safety guidelines of their provincial sports organization.

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

Non-essential travel between health regions has been restricted. According to Ministerial Order No. M172, individuals who travel in or out of their designated region for non-essential purposes may be subject to a $575 fine. Essential travel includes travel for school, work, health care, and child care. 

For the purposes of the order, the health authority regions have been redefined as follows:

  1. The Fraser-Vancouver Coastal Health Authority region includes both the Fraser Health Authority region and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority region;
  2. The Northern-Interior Health Authority region includes the Northern Health Authority region, the Interior Health Authority region, and the local health areas of Bella Coola Valley, Central Coast, and Hope;
  3. The Interior Health Authority region remains the same.

The order will be enforced through periodic road checks at key travel corridors. Police will not be engaging in random checks at this time.

BC Ferries will no longer accept bookings for recreational vehicles, and individuals are now unable to book travel accommodations or camping sites outside of their designated regions. While there is currently no order to this effect, the Premier has indicated that the government will issue one if necessary.

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

Other

Whistler Blackcomb ski resort is closed until May 25.

Weddings, baptisms, and indoor funeral ceremonies are permitted to continue with a maximum of ten attendees, including the officiant. Outdoor funeral ceremonies conducted by a religious body are permitted with a maximum of 50 people in attendance, plus two extra people to ensure rules are being followed. Receptions are not permitted at this time, and attendees must avoid gathering or socially engaging before, during, and after the service.

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;
  • take or provide preventive measures;
  • comply with an order;
  • take emergency preventive measures; or
  • 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 by

  • 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 the Public Health Act by:

  • causing a health hazard; or
  • 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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