VICTORIA -- British Columbia’s junior hockey league will return to the ice next month after the province approved a shortened season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province announced Friday that the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) would return to play in April on the recommendation of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

The league has put in place improved safety protocols, including limiting team travel to so-called “pod” cities and imposing a pre-season quarantine for players, coaches and staff.

The five pod cities where games will be played are Chilliwack, Coquitlam, Penticton, Port Alberni and Vernon.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives in countless ways,” said B.C. Premier John Horgan in a statement announcing the return to play. “While we are not out of the woods yet, there is hope on the horizon and we are now ready to, gradually and safely, resume some of these activities. That includes getting young people back on the ice this season.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Friday that the ministry is exploring a return for other league sports as well.

“Sports are important for young people’s development and we understand how hard the time away from friends and teammates has been,” Dix said in the statement. “I know that Dr. Henry and her team are working hard to determine how to safely return more leagues back to the field of play this spring.”

The province says that the BCHL’s return can be amended at any time based on the latest COVID-19 data and modelling.