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

On January 7, 2021, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry (“Dr. Henry”) extended health orders restricting social interactions and business operations within BC. The orders will now remain in effect until February 5, 2021, at midnight. 

Enforcement will continue to focus primarily on workplaces, and those that do not comply may be subject to fines.

Orders and Recommendations

Masks

Masks are required in all public indoor settings and retail stores, including in restaurants and bars when not seated at a table. 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.

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.

Employers are expected to enforce the mask requirement and can refuse entry or service to customers who do not comply.

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 can remain open as long as they have a COVID-19 safety plan in place.

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 post directional signs where practical to do so.

Limited Social Interaction

No one is permitted to gather socially with anyone outside of their immediate household or “core bubble”. A “core bubble” can include a maximum of two relatives, friends, partners, or co-parents who happen to live in a different household.

The following is prohibited:

  • inviting friends or family to your household if they are outside your “core bubble”;
  • gathering outdoors with anyone outside your “core bubble”; and
  • dining with anyone outside your “core bubble”.

Permitted activities include:

  • going for a walk with someone outside your “core bubble”;
  • grandparents providing childcare;
  • carpool arrangements to and from school; and
  • welcoming a child home from university.

Religious Gatherings

In-person religious gatherings have been suspended, but individuals are permitted to visit places of worship for activities such as individual contemplation or prayer. 

Schools

Schools will remain open and are unaffected by the order.

Events and Community-based Gatherings

Community-based gatherings, as defined in the Gatherings and Events Order, 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, 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.

Fitness Centers

High-intensity group fitness activities, such as spin classes, hot yoga, and high intensity interval training sessions have been suspended.

Low-intensity group physical activities, such as yoga, pilates, and adult dance classes may resume in accordance with new public health guidelines. An updated COVID-19 Safety Plan should be posted at the facility.

Individual exercise or practice can continue, as long as the facility offering these services strictly follows their COVID-19 Safety Plan.

Sports

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

  • Two people may engage in indoor sports with one another; and
  • Four people may engage in outdoor sports with one another.

Indoor and outdoor sports for people under the age of 21 are permitted, but must follow viaSport’s Return to Sport Phase 2 guidance. At this time, viaSport has suspended games, tournaments, and competitions.

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.

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. Performances, recitals and demonstrations have been suspended.

Travel

Non-essential travel in and out of the province and between health regions is strongly discouraged, but not expressly prohibited. The only exception is travel for sports, which has been suspended.

Essential travel includes travel for work, medical appointments, and hospital visits.

Other

Wedding, baptism, and funeral ceremonies are permitted to continue with a maximum of ten attendees (including the officiant). Receptions are not permitted at this time.

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.

Limousines and party buses must suspend operations until further notice.

Impact on Businesses

Businesses should immediately confirm whether their particular service has been suspended and proceed accordingly. Businesses that are permitted to remain open should revisit their COVID-19 safety plan and update it in accordance with the new orders. A helpful guideline is available here.

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

Businesses are required to implement a daily screening procedure for all onsite employees. Other changes 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.

Available Fines and Enforcement Measures

Once again, Dr. Henry has indicated that inspections and enforcement will increase, and focus primarily on workplaces. Now is the time for strict compliance. 

Dr. Henry has specifically warned that non-compliant restaurants may be subject to fines and closure orders. She has also indicated that those who operate limousines or party busses may be subject to $2,000 fines, and those who utilize these services may be subject to $200 fines.

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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