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BC's Latest COVID-19 Restrictions Explained

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

On May 25, 2021, the provincial government introduced a four-step reopening plan: BC’s Restart: A plan to bring us back together (the “Plan”). BC entered Step 3 of the Plan on July 1, 2021, one day after the expiration of the provincial COVID-19 state of emergency.[1] The province will enter Step 4, and remove all restrictions, once case counts and hospitalizations have decreased.[2] For more information on the Plan, please refer to the BC Government’s webpage here.

The following is a summary of the restrictions and 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.

Orders and Recommendations

Vaccines

As of October 24, 2021, individuals aged 12 and older must show proof of two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to access certain non-essential businesses, events, and services. Individuals must also present a government-issued piece of photo ID. This requirement is currently set to end on January 31, 2022, but is subject to extensions.

The requirement to show proof of vaccination applies at places defined as “premises” in the Food and Liquor Serving Premises Order or as “inside event” in the Gatherings and Events Order. Examples include restaurants, gyms, and indoor ticketed events. The requirement to show proof of vaccination does not apply at places such as grocery stores, retail stores, and hotels. For a list of several of the businesses and services that are required to demand proof of vaccination, see the BC government’s webpage here.

Canadians travelling on federally regulated modes of travel must also show proof of vaccination. This includes domestic and international flights from Canadian airports, on VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer trains, and cruise ships. BC Ferries does not require proof of vaccination. 

BC residents can download their provincial and federal vaccine cards here, and either print them or save them to their smartphones. Individuals who do not have access to a smartphone, computer, or printer can request a paper copy of their BC Vaccine Card by phone or at most Service BC locations.

Visitors from out of province must also show proof of vaccination. Canadian visitors must show their provincially- or territorially-recognized vaccine record and a piece of valid government photo ID. International visitors must show the proof of vaccination they used to enter Canada and their passport. 

For more information, please refer to the BC Government’s webpage here and the federal Government's webpage here.

Masks

Under the Face Coverings Order, individuals born in or earlier than 2016 must wear masks in all indoor public settings. The following people are exempt:

  • people with health conditions or with physical, cognitive, or other impairments who cannot wear a mask;
  • people who cannot remove a mask on their own;
  • children under the age of 5; and
  • people who need to remove their masks to communicate due to another person’s hearing impairment.

Workplaces

Employers are no longer required to maintain a COVID-19 Safety Plan and can instead transition to communicable disease plan. WorkSafeBC has published Communicable disease prevention: A guide for employers to assist employers in reducing the risk of communicable disease in their workplace. High-risk workplaces may be subject to additional safety precautions.

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 schools, police stations, and shelters, are exempt from such closure orders.  

Retailers

Retail businesses may resume normal operations.

Restaurants and Bars

According to the Food and Liquor Serving Premises Order, indoor and outdoor dining is permitted. There are no limits on group size, and liquor service hours have returned to normal. Dancing is prohibited and individuals must wear a mask when not seated at a table.

There are regional restrictions in place in the Fraser and Northern Health Regions.

Personal Gatherings

There are no province-wide restrictions on indoor or outdoor personal gatherings. There are regional restrictions in place in the Fraser and Northern Health Regions.

Organized Gatherings

Outdoor organized gatherings are permitted with a maximum of 5,000 attendees or 50% of the seated capacity, whichever is greater (not including event staff). Seating must be available for all attendees. 

Indoor organized gatherings are permitted with no capacity restrictions. Every attendee at an event with more than 50 people must be provided with a seat, though seating is not required for conventions, conferences, and ticketed parties. Masks must be worn indoors and dancing is not permitted.

Proof of vaccination is required for all organized gatherings with more than 50 people in attendance.

There are regional restrictions in place in the Fraser and Northern Health Regions.

Religious Gatherings

Worship services can proceed at 100% capacity if every attendee is vaccinated. Otherwise, they can only proceed at 50% capacity. 

All attendees, including choirs, must wear a mask during services. Masks can be removed when eating or drinking. Officiants, readers, and soloists are also permitted to remove their masks while speaking if physical distancing measures are in place.

Schools

Schools are open. All K to 12 students, staff, and visitors must wear a mask in indoor areas, including at desks and on school busses. Exceptions are in place. 

For more information on the 2021/2022 school year, please refer to the BC government’s COVID-19 safe schools webpage, here.

Exercise and Fitness Centers

Gyms, pools, recreation facilities, and indoor group exercise classes are permitted to operate with normal capacity.

Sports

All group sports, including games, competitions, and practices, are permitted. Travel for sport is also permitted.

Indoor sport activities can have up to 50 spectators or 50% seated capacity, whichever is greater. Outdoor sport activities can have up to 5,000 spectators or 50% seated capacity, whichever is greater.

Travel

Recreational travel is permitted within BC. The province is also welcoming visitors from other Canadian provinces or territories, as well as fully-vaccinated visitors from the United States.

Some Indigenous communities are not welcoming visitors at this time. A list of Indigenous communities and experiences in the province that are currently open and welcoming visitors is available here.

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

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

Impact on Businesses

Businesses should continually review whether their sector has been restricted and proceed accordingly. All businesses should ensure that their communicable disease prevention plan is in compliance with provincial health orders. Businesses should also confirm whether or not they are required to ask patrons for proof of vaccination.

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.[3]
  • administrative penalties, such as an order to pay compensation or perform community service.[4]

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.[5]
  • administrative penalties, such as an order to pay compensation or perform community service.[6]

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.[7]
  • administrative penalties, such as an order to pay compensation or perform community service.[8]

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.[9]

 

[1] The provincial state of emergency, originally declared on March 18, 2020, allowed the Provincial government to use extraordinary powers under the Emergency Program Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 111, to support its COVID-19 pandemic response.

[2] Another prerequisite is for 70% of adults in the province to have been vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The province achieved this in June 2021. 

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

[4]Public Health Act, s. 107.

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

[6]Public Health Act, s. 107.

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

[8]Public Health Act, s. 107.

[9]Public Health Act, s. 27.

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