B.C. could see easing of some COVID-19 restrictions as early as mid-May, per Minister Dix and Dr. Henry
On Friday morning, Minister of Health Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presented the province's latest COVID-19 modelling. The slide deck and related resources from Friday's press briefing can be found
The data presented on Friday suggests B.C. is flattening the curve when it comes to confirmed cases, and that the province is well ahead of the Canadian average.
Based on these new projections, Dr. Henry said B.C. could begin to ease some restrictions as early as mid-May, provided active cases and hospitalizations continue to fall.
“For the health-care system to start ramping up again — outpatient visits, surgeries, diagnosis test increases … these things need to happen in tandem. But we need to do it in a way that does not increase risk of people coming together, spreading the virus and transmitting it,” Henry said.
“We have to find that balance of opening the economy, (and) having business going while maintaining some of the restrictions we have in place. It won’t be back-to-school, everyone mingling. It might be a gradual return with smaller numbers in graduated classrooms. So some kids part of the day and some kids for other parts of the day,” Dr. Henry said.
No decision has been made on whether these activities in schools will resume before the end of the academic year.
"I believe this summer, we will have the opportunity to have way more social opportunities … but we're not quite there yet. So I'm asking for patience.”
“It is essential for everyone in B.C. to maintain what we have been doing " Dr. Henry reiterated.
Dr. Henry cautioned that despite her optimism, significant restrictions – such as on non-essential travel – will still be in place for some time, likely until a vaccine has been developed for the virus. Experts have said this could be up to 18 months away.
Also noted during Friday’s briefing was the real concern shared by health officials about a second wave of the virus returning in the fall. Dr. Henry said she and her team have begun ordering more ventilators and adding acute care capacity as precautionary measures.
Local governments receive permission to borrow from capital reserves; new measures fall short for many B.C.
Municipalities in B.C. – who are legally prevented from running deficits – have been authorized by the provincial government to borrow, interest-free, from their existing capital reserves.
On Thursday, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Selina Robinson announced her government’s “first step” to support municipalities facing severe revenue shortfalls due to the ongoing pandemic. She announced that provinces will be able to defer debt into the next fiscal year, and hold onto the province’s portion of the school tax until the end of the current year. Municipalities that choose to borrow from their capital reserves will be able to do so without incurring interest, and will have five years to replace the reserve funds.
“These measures will help local governments meet their immediate operational demands [and] will also ensure regional district, hospital district and transit authorities have the financial support that they rely on,” Minister Robinson said at the announcement.
However, the measures announced on Thursday fall short of the pleas of many municipalities across B.C.
Mayor of Vancouver Kennedy Stewart does not feel this is enough support to prevent him from making layoffs and reducing services city-wide. Mayor Stewart has been asking for an emergency $200-million grant to help Vancouver weather the COVID-19 storm. He says the city is losing $4-5 million every week.
“New measures allowing municipalities to borrow from capital reserves will not help us fill our $110-million budget gap in the long run, as these loans need to be paid back in full,” Stewart told Global News. Instead, according to Stewart, the city will have to make cuts or hike property taxes.
The provincial government has also said they will not be extending property tax deferrals to all homeowners (currently in place for seniors and some families), nor will they consider changing the law which bars local governments from running deficits. These are two changes Metro Vancouver mayors have been pleading the province to consider.
Province announces further commercial property tax relief; most businesses to save 25 per cent, according to Minister Robinson
Also announced by Minister Selina Robinson on Thursday was some relief for commercial property owners.
The government has reduced the school property tax rate by such that, according to Minister Robinson, will mean an average 25 per cent reduction in the total property tax bill for most businesses.
She also announced they would be postponing the date that late payment penalties apply for commercial properties of certain classes, to give businesses and landlords more time to pay their reduced tax bill, without penalty.
B.C.’s state of emergency extended by two weeks
In a news conference on Wednesday, Premier John Horgan formally extended the state of emergency in B.C. until the end of the day on April 28.
“We are starting to see the results of our sacrifice, dedication and hard work, and we must continue to be steadfast in our commitment to keep our communities safe,” Horgan told reporters.
It was during Wednesday's news conference that British Columbians first heard signals that a reopening of B.C.'s economy may not be far off – signals which were confirmed in Friday's modelling briefing by Dr. Henry and Minister Dix.