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B.C. businesses may still require masks as COVID-19 order lifts

Masks recommended for 70% of public not yet fully vaccinated
Barrier protects checkout clerk at a grocery store in North Vancouver, March 22, 2020. (The Canadian Press)

Businesses around B.C. are bracing for the end of the COVID-19 public health order requiring face masks July 1, and some will still require customers and staff to wear them as 70 per cent of people still aren’t fully vaccinated.

The public health mask advisory was upgraded to an order early last year, and sparked confrontations with people who demanded service from businesses without putting on a mask. Provincial officials are pleading with the public to comply with businesses whose employees may face hostile customers or exercise their right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions.

“We need to be kind to the people and the businesses who are working hard to reopen safely,” Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon said as the province confirmed it is moving to step three reopening and the end of the mask order starting Thursday. “Vaccination numbers continue to climb, but not all of us have the same level of comfort or protection right now. We need to be respectful of businesses that may continue to require masks. We need to be respectful of others who may ask you to wear a mask around them.”

The public health recommendation for continued mask use is for everyone 12 and up who hasn’t received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with 14 days after the second dose to build immunity. The greater freedom of going without a mask in public indoor spaces is being used as an incentive to get more people immunized, and follow up with booster doses as the summer progresses.

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said wearing a mask is advised in places such as transit buses where groups of people who don’t know each other gather in close quarters. Barriers in grocery stores and other retail spaces are staying in place.

“And as we transition over this period of time, with more and more people protected and fewer people wearing masks, those barriers will still be important,” Henry said June 29.

As of July 1 and the formal end of B.C.’s 15-month state of emergency, businesses no longer need posted COVID-19 emergency plans. Restaurants and pubs are returning to normal operation, although staff may continue to use masks and patrons are not allowed to mingle between tables.

Outdoor fairs and festivals are what Henry calls “flow-through events, where people can move away from others and keep their distance.” The Pacific National Exhibition announced Wednesday it would go ahead with a smaller version of the annual fair Aug. 21 to Sept. 6.


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