VICTORIA -- Premier John Horgan says his government will be focused on delivering COVID-19 relief payments to British Columbians once the legislature returns next week.

Horgan spoke from Victoria Wednesday, immediately following the first meeting of his new cabinet.

The B.C. legislature is set to return to business with a speech from the throne on Monday, Dec. 7.

The government’s foremost task upon its return, Horgan said, will be ensuring British Columbians receive the COVID-19 benefit payments the premier promised while campaigning ahead of the Oct. 24 election.

The benefit would come in the form of a one-time, $1,000 direct deposit to families whose household income is under $125,000 annually, with a sliding scale up to $175,000.

Individuals earning less than $62,000 annually would be eligible for $500, with a sliding scale up to $87,000.

“It’s putting dollars into people’s pockets so they can continue to get through the most challenging time that British Columbians have ever known,” Horgan said of the payments.

“This is going to be means-tested, it’s going to be low-income families and individuals who will get access to resources that they wouldn’t have had otherwise, that are going to give them the ability to participate more in the economy.”

The premier has not committed to a firm timeline to deliver the payments, but said earlier Wednesday that he hoped to have them by Christmas, or “very, very early in the new year.”

With the holiday season approaching amid a worsening COVID-19 pandemic in B.C., the premier urged British Columbians to keep gatherings to “an absolute minimum.”

“At this point, we’ve got to continue to focus on keeping our hands clean, keeping our distances, making sure we’re not gathering in large numbers, and, of course, always wearing a mask when we’re indoors or in public spaces,” Horgan said.

The premier said he has had ongoing conversations with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his fellow premiers about discouraging travel at this point in the pandemic.

“This is a critical, dangerous time for British Columbia with COVID-19,” Horgan said. “The second wave is well and truly upon us.”

Horgan said that while British Columbia is faring better in combatting the pandemic than neighbouring regions to the east and south, British Columbians need to “stick to the basic activities that we are essentially required to do, and no more than that.” 

Horgan said he is hopeful that existing restrictions on travel and group activities that were announced last month will not need to be renewed after they’re set to expire on Monday. But he cautioned the decision would be based solely on public health data and no decision on rescinding or extending the orders would be made ahead of time.

“We’re hopeful we’ll see a flattening of the curve,” Horgan said. “We’re hopeful that the orders and the directives have been adhered to by British Columbians and that we will see some relief come Monday, but (provincial health officer) Dr. (Bonnie) Henry will assess the data, she’ll do her analysis, she’ll brief the government, and decisions will be made at that time.”