VICTORIA—British Columbia’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, now a household name across the country, fought back tears while asking British Columbians to consider cancelling gatherings with older people in March last year, as the dangers associated with COVID-19 were becoming clear.
Tuesday was all about getting those people back together.
Declaring, “We are in a different place today,” Henry delivered a plan that is meant to guide B.C. residents toward being able to hug their loved ones and neighbours by the summer.
“This is indeed a good day, and one that I have been waiting for for a long time, as I’m sure many in B.C. have, too,” she said.
And, as part of the announcement of B.C.’s four-step reopening plan, Henry had one novel suggestion.
“I’m thinking by the time we get to July that we’ll be able to hug our neighbours again, if they’re people that like to be hugged,” she said.
“It’s one of the things I’m missing most in the pandemic, and I’ve been trying to pitch to the premier that we should have B.C. Hug Day in July.”
B.C.’s four-stage reopening plan plots out a quicker reopening than that proposed by Ontario, and omits second vaccine doses as a factor.
Instead, the plan focuses on three metrics: case numbers, hospitalizations and first doses of vaccine administered.
It gradually phases in indoor and outdoor dining, faith gatherings and social interactions to a point, with the earliest start date of July 1, when British Columbians will be able to return to normal indoor and outdoor personal gatherings, as well as larger organized gatherings, as long as the organizers have a COVID-19 safety plan in place.
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In order to get to that point, B.C. will need 70 per cent of people with one dose of vaccine, low case numbers and declining hospitalizations.
By comparison, at the 70 per cent vaccination threshold, Ontario will be able to have small indoor gatherings of five people, something that is allowed immediately in B.C., at a 60 per cent vaccination rate.
Indoor dining for six people is also open immediately in B.C., but not allowed in Ontario until its third stage — at 70 to 80 per cent first-dose vaccination.
“It is getting as many people that first dose as possible that gets us to the point where it’s manageable and we can start lifting restrictions,” Henry said. “(We’ll be) learning to live with COVID-19 as just another virus that circulates in our community now and then.”
The second dose, she said, is more about giving additional personal protection to every individual.
The Stage 3 start date is when Henry suggested the province should have some kind of Hug Day.
The idea was met with mixed reactions online, with some celebrating the projection that hugging our loved ones will be safe by July, and others commenting that a day celebrating hugs makes light of the serious losses that have taken place over the course of the pandemic — including 1,679 people who have died of COVID-19 in B.C.
Others responded with variations on: “I’d rather not.”
To those, Henry said everyone should respect one another’s wishes about whether or not they want to be hugged. But she delivered a “warning” to her nieces and nephews that she’d be coming to them with open arms pretty soon.
Alex McKeen is a Vancouver-based reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_mckeen
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