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Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.'s plan to restart the province during a press conference as B.C. is now entering Stage 2 of their reopening plan on Tuesday.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

British Columbia’s movie theatres can reopen on Tuesday for the first time since November, recreational travel within the province can resume and liquor can be served in bars and restaurants until midnight. This easing of pandemic restrictions, the second step in a four-stage reopening, comes as British Columbians easily surpassed the province’s vaccination targets.

“This will be our summer of hope and healing from this pandemic,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told a news conference. “We are in a great position right now. Hospitalizations, outbreaks, clusters, cases in our community, are all down.” The government had said it would not move to Stage 2 until at least 65 per cent of adults had received their first dose of vaccine. The province’s first-dose vaccination rate is more than 75 per cent.

Further restrictions are expected to lift at the planned beginning of Stage 3 on July 1. British Columbia’s incremental reopening is designed to allow public-health officials time to watch for any surge in cases. But already the province has shifted to a marketing campaign that urges residents to take advantage of the new rules to get out around the province and open their wallets as a way of supporting the hard-hit tourism and hospitality sectors.

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Moments before Dr. Henry’s remarks, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a one-month-long delay of plans to lift most remaining COVID-19 restrictions in England, owing to the rapid spread of the more infectious Delta variant there.

But Dr. Henry maintains that the public health care system in B.C. has the capacity to monitor variants of concern. In early June, the province began conducting whole genome sequencing on every COVID-19 positive case to track the presence of viral mutations. She added that the province is ahead of Britain in vaccinating people under the age of 30, who are driving much of the virus’s transmission.

“I don’t expect, with what we know now, we’ll have to go back,” Dr. Henry said. “We may need to slow going forward, depending on what happens, and this next couple of months will be very key for that.”

As of June 15, theatres and banquet halls can seat a maximum of 50 people for organized gatherings, and indoor faith gatherings can seat up to 50 people, or 10 per cent of total capacity if that number is higher. Outdoor personal gatherings of up to 50 people are permitted, team sports for all ages can resume and at outdoor sports events up to 50 spectators will be allowed.

Moviegoers will be able to consume drinks and snacks at their seats but are asked to sit only with their own households. The movie-theatre chain Cineplex expects all 24 of its B.C. cinemas to be open on Tuesday.

“It is exciting. We’ve been waiting since November for this day,” said Kant Kang, a B.C. executive with the chain. He said almost 75 per cent of staff who were temporarily laid off have come back, and online ticket sales are already strong. “The most important thing right now is making sure our poppers work – a lot of guests are telling us they can’t wait to come back and eat our popcorn.”

Premier John Horgan joined the reopening announcement along with his ministers for Health, Tourism and Jobs. In his remarks, the Premier stressed the economic benefits of easing the pandemic restrictions.

“I understand those that are anxious, but together we can get to a place where British Columbia can lead the country in economic revival,” Mr. Horgan said.

Tourism Minister Melanie Mark said the government’s travel marketing agency, Destination BC, is now promoting summer travel targeting B.C. residents. “We can finally get out and support each other – people, jobs and our economy,” she said. “The best way we can show our love for B.C. and our tourism businesses is to get out and eat, play, shop.”

BC Ferries’ online booking and telephone services were promptly overwhelmed on Monday as travellers embraced the end of restrictions between B.C.’s regions.

By July 1, the province hopes to lift all limits on indoor and outdoor personal gatherings, to allow recreational travel within Canada and to allow fairs and festivals that have COVID-19 safety plans in place.

And by Sept. 7, if case counts and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 remain low, B.C. expects to make masks in public indoor settings a personal choice, rather than mandatory. Normal personal social contacts would be allowed to resume, and higher-capacity gatherings such as concerts would be permitted.

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