The B.C. government has announced phases of its plans to re-open the province and the economy after weeks of social and physical distancing restrictions. (News Bulletin photo)

Vancouver Island’s business community anxious to find out more about re-opening B.C.

Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce will help businesses navigate province’s phased plan

Retail, restaurants and certain services are set to start re-opening across Vancouver Island, but what safety and social distancing measures will be required and how those will be inspected and approved are questions that haven’t been fully answered.

Kim Smythe, Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer, is one of the people trying to find those answers for retailers and restaurant operators.

“I was excited by the notion and the announcement … I think everybody was,” Smythe said, a day after the B.C. government revealed initial details of a plan to re-open the province. “We’re looking for any piece of good news or any light at the end of the tunnel. Anything would have gone over well yesterday, but now, first thing this morning, the questions start: Who’s guiding the opening? How is it working? What are the requirements? What do I have to do?”

Not all types of businesses have industry associations to represent them or to disseminate standardized instructions or requirements for re-opening. Smythe said he’s being told that businesses should follow the examples of grocery stores, which have implemented various measures such as arrows and other physical-distancing instructions on floors, plexiglass shields at cash registers and, in some instances, gloves and masks for employees.

Smythe said two hours after Premier John Horgan’s announcement last week, he received an e-mail from one downtown retailer informing him that store planned to open the next day.

“So they’re all ready to rock ’n’ roll,” Smythe said. “[The owner] has just gone out, looked at what grocery stores are doing [and] seen that that’s acceptable to the government.”

The chamber CEO expects that as many retailers and restaurants attempt to open as soon as possible, sometimes without proper virus spread prevention measures, there will be a “lot of awkward re-openings.”

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The B.C. government has published a COVID-19 Go Forward Management Strategy which deals with the reasoning behind partially re-opening the economy and shares information about expectations and best practices.

The strategy notes that the B.C. government’s modelling suggests there is opportunity to move from current lockdown restrictions of 30 per cent of normal social interaction to a “sweet spot” of 60 per cent of social interaction without triggering “a significant and unsustainable growth in transmission of the virus.”

General guidelines include higher levels and greater frequency of cleaning of high-touch areas in workplaces and retail outlets, temporary physical barriers “where appropriate and practical,” accommodation of higher-risk workers and clients, “sensible physical distancing and sensible volume of customers” and more.

“I like the looseness of it as much as I’m frustrated and puzzled by the looseness of it,” Smythe said.

The B.C. government’s restart plan is split into four phases, the first of which is the status quo. Phase 2, which takes effect in “mid May,” includes additional retail, restaurants, cafés, pubs, offices, museums, art galleries and libraries. Restoring elective surgeries and dental services, chiropractic, physiotherapy and massage therapy, as well as personal services such as hair salons, as well as in-person counselling are also included in Phase 2.

Day use of parks and beaches can resume – provincial parks are re-opening this week – and so can certain types of recreation, particularly low-contact, outdoor sports. Child care centres “are an important part of the social infrastructure to support parents returning to work” and are supported under Phase 2, with daily screening of all staff and students.

Phase 3, planned for June to September, includes “further restoration of services, under enhanced protocols” and includes camping, tourism and theatre-going, and a return to school, likely in September. Phase 4, large gatherings, won’t happen without a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment.

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The province has engaged WorkSafe B.C. to develop industry-specific protocols following guidance from the provincial health officer “and using research and best practices from other jurisdictions,” noted a WorkSafe B.C. press release.

WorkSafe says it will offer education, consultation and workplace inspections and provide resources such as checklists, planning templates, training materials, signs and other tools.

The Nanaimo chamber of commerce has been hosting online round-table webinars for businesses to navigate coronavirus restrictions and find ways to keep bringing in income during the pandemic.

“We’re excited to see moves to get the economy back rolling again,” Smythe said. “To get people back to work and to return to full employment as quickly as possible is our dream.”

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