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B.C. ready to move to Stage 2 of COVID restart plan, Henry says

Parts of northern B.C. remain COVID-19 hotspots

B.C.'s rising vaccination rate and dropping COVID case counts mean the province should be able to move to the next phase of its reopening plan, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said on Thursday.

As of Thursday, 74.9 per cent of adults and 72.8 per cent of British Columbians 12 and older had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Henry said. The number of active cases continued to decline, dropping to 1,910 across the province – including 73 active cases in the Northern Health region.

"We will be in a good position to go forward with our restart plan," Henry said. "I am more optimistic than I have been in a long time."

Phase 2 of the provincial plan, which won't come into effect until Tuesday at the earliest, would eliminate the restrictions on recreational travel within B.C.

In addition, outdoor personal gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed. That includes things like backyard barbecues, outdoor birthday parties and block parties.

Indoor seated gatherings for up to 50 people, with a COVID-19 safety plan, will also be allowed.

Restaurants and pubs will be able to serve liquor until midnight, and banquet halls will be allowed to reopen with limited capacity and COVID-19 safety plans in place.

Indoor high-intensity group exercise programs will be allowed to resume, as well as indoor games and practices for adult and youth sports.

Up to 50 spectators will be allowed at outdoor sports events.

Masks and physical distancing will continue to be required in indoor public settings.

While vaccination rates having been rising and cases dropping across most of the province, there continues to be hotspots of infections in the north and interior, Henry said.

The vaccination rates in the Peace country are the lowest in the province. As of Monday, only 44 to 46 per cent of those aged 12 and up were vaccinated in the Peace River South, Peace River North and Fort Nelson local health areas, according to data released by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

The Prince George local health area – which includes Mackenzie and the Robson valley – had a 64 per cent vaccination rate as of Monday.

Between May 30 and June 5, 23 of the 37 cases of COVID-19 reported in the Northern Health region were in the northeast, according to the B.C. CDC. Ten cases were reported in the Prince George area over that time period.

"In some areas of in Northern Health and Interior Health we are having more challenges reaching people," Henry said. 

Public health officials are working on their "ground game" to reach out to communities where vaccination rates are low, Henry said, to make it easy for people to get vaccinated.

"We know most people are doing the right thing and coming in to our clinics," she said.

Nine new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the Northern Health region on Thursday.

The number of active cases in the region dropped by one from Wednesday to 73, according to B.C. CDC data. Six people were hospitalized with COVID in the region, including four in critical care.

No new COVID-related deaths were reported in the region, leaving the pandemic death toll for the north at 154.

A total of 172,236 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the Northern Health region, including 147,227 first doses and 25,009 second doses. Those numbers don't include doses administered by the First Nations Health Authority.

Since the start of the pandemic there have been 7,741 cases of COVID-19 in the north, of which 7,514 people have recovered.

As of the end of May, there had been a total of 1,856 cases of COVID-19 in the Prince George area.

Anyone who has not already done so can register to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by going online to www.gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated or phoning 1-833-838-2323 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily.