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A man walks by a mural depicting quotes from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam in Victoria on May 6, 2020.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

Among the country’s most populous provinces, B.C. has distinguished itself in the fight against COVID-19.

It’s been able to flatten the growth of the virus in a way Quebec, Ontario and, to some extent, even Alberta have not been able to. That’s why many were eager to see what kind of path, exactly, the province planned to chart in terms of easing its way out of coronavirus-related lockdown.

On Wednesday, B.C. Premier John Horgan outlined a plan that is mostly built on caution and is not dissimilar to ones unveiled by other provinces and jurisdictions around the world.

The glaring exception would be Quebec, which recently detailed a much bolder reopening of its economy, despite suffering the worst COVID-19 numbers in the country. Either Quebec knows something the rest of the country doesn’t, or its scheme is going to backfire spectacularly.

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B.C., meantime, announced a very measured plan that will allow retail outlets, as well as pubs, restaurants and personal-service businesses such as hair salons to reopen by the middle of the month. Areas of the health care sector that shut down will also resume, with dentists, physiotherapists, chiropractors and other practitioners returning to work.

Just as importantly, people have been given the blessing to expand their circle of contacts. It’s fine to hug loved ones who live outside your household. It’s okay to have friends over as long as you maintain an appropriate physical distance.

The province will consider allowing hotels and resorts to open later in the summer, depending on what the COVID-19 numbers look like. If there is an alarming spike in infection rates, then it will be back to square one again – something no one wants.

As I say, it doesn’t look or feel a lot different than what Alberta or Manitoba or Germany or Australia have announced in this regard. It largely relies on people’s common sense. B.C. still expects people to wear protective masks, where appropriate, and wash their hands constantly and maintain an appropriately safe distance from others.

But concerns have emerged.

By deciding not to reopen classrooms until September, B.C. is leaving many parents with difficult choices. How do dad and mom go back to their jobs in areas such as retail with children at home? Can you truly begin reopening the economy when so many parents have nowhere to turn when it comes to the care of little ones who would normally be in a classroom while they were at work?

A big question is how comfortable are people going to feel going back into environments that are more conducive to the spread of the virus – despite whatever physical-distancing measures are put in place? That is going to be a huge challenge for the restaurant industry in particular. How do you make people feel at ease about entering establishments that may include servers wearing disposable gloves and face masks, and sitting at tables with Plexiglas?

And there are other practical questions. If a party of six comes in for dinner, does the maître d’ ask if they’re all part of a family bubble? I can’t see that happening.

I suspect it will take some time for various sectors to sort this all out. And maybe it will take some pioneers, some brave souls, to venture out and show the rest of us that it’s okay and safe to resume some of our old activities under a new code of conduct. Maybe there will be so much pent-up demand to grab any vestige of our old existence that filling restaurants and pubs won’t be an issue.

It’s noteworthy that B.C. chose to unveil its reopening program in a week in which the province reported a 24-hour period with only eight new cases of the virus. It’s a number health authorities haven’t seen since the first few cases began to be documented in January and February.

The same day, Quebec was reporting 910 new cases.

The mind boggles at Quebec’s decision to reopen schools and most businesses. (However, in Montreal, which continues to be the epicentre of the virus in Canada, the start of the government’s plan has been further delayed until the end of the month.) It seems like a massive gamble.

What no one wants is to resume life under a new normal but then see everything shut down again because of exploding virus cases that threaten to overwhelm our hospitals. That would be devastating.

The fact is, we don’t know how this is going to all turn out. But we’re about to find out.

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