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Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King is seen after speaking with the media on Parliament Hill on Dec. 8, 2021 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Prince Edward Island will start easing COVID-19 restrictions on Feb. 17, with the hope of ending gathering limits and mandatory masking requirements by early April, Premier Dennis King said Tuesday.

His cabinet has approved a three-step plan that will see an end to most restrictions around April 7, he told reporters.

“This is not a declaration that COVID is over, or that COVID will disappear, or that we are standing here saying mission accomplished,” King said in Charlottetown. “COVID is still with us and it will be with us.”

The premier said the last 23 months have been “a grind” for everyone and that his government’s plan puts some timelines on easing restrictions. King said some restrictions may remain well into the future in high-risk locations such as hospitals and long-term care homes, as the province learns to live with COVID-19.

Chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison reported the death from COVID-19 of a person over the age of 80 – the 13th death in the province since the pandemic began.

Morrison said nine people were hospitalized with the disease, a decrease of two from Monday, and one patient was in intensive care. There were five other people in hospital who were admitted for other reasons but later tested positive for COVID-19.

She reported 264 new cases Tuesday and 268 recoveries, for a total of 1,819 active cases.

Since the start of the pandemic, Prince Edward Island has reported more than 9,000 cases, with over 95 per cent of them in just the last two and a half months.

Morrison said the three-step plan takes a cautious approach. “Today is a day we cautiously look forward with hope and optimism.”

Under Step One, indoor private gathering limits will rise to 20 people. The current limit is a household plus 10 people.

Worship services, wedding ceremonies, spectator activities and concerts will move from a maximum of 50 people to 50 per cent capacity with no strict rule for distancing. Wedding receptions and dances will be permitted with up to 50 people. Restaurants, fitness facilities, retail, and museums can operate at up to 50 per cent capacity.

The PEI Vax Pass will remain in effect for discretionary activities, and fully vaccinated travellers arriving in P.E.I. won’t have to automatically isolate for four days but will be tested on entry.

Under Step two – expected in mid-March – organized gatherings and restaurants will move from 50 per cent capacity to 75 per cent. Wedding receptions and dances will be allowed to host up to 100 people. The PEI Vax Pass will only be applicable for events with over 200 participants.

Under Step 3, mandatory masking will end but will still be recommended in indoor public places. There will be no testing at points of entry and no gathering limits.

“Our aim is to phase out these public heath measures at the earliest possible time,” Morrison said. “This is a hopeful plan and we will move forward carefully.”

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