Forget about PNE, other summer events amid COVID-19 measures, says B.C.’s top doctor

Coronavirus outbreak: B.C. health official says large events, gatherings won’t be happening this summer
British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Saturday said that due to the coronavirus pandemic, large events, gatherings including weddings, and organized parades would have to be cancelled this summer in order to stem the spread of COVID-19. Henry added that the "new normal" would involve bringing back aspects of pre-pandemic life, but still maintaining some safety measures and distancing.

If your summer plans were still hinging on heading to the PNE or a Pride parade, B.C.’s top doctor says that’s not going to happen this year.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Saturday that physical distancing measures put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 will remain through the season, and that organizers of those large outdoor events should be thinking about alternatives.

“We do not have enough herd immunity to protect everybody and allow that type of event to happen,” she said. “Large parades, large mass gatherings where we all come together — those will not be happening this summer.”

READ MORE: B.C. reports 3 more deaths from COVID-19, 29 new confirmed cases

Henry said that also applies to weddings and other large family gatherings, urging people to consider reducing guest lists and finding other, virtual ways to connect.

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“I would tell people to think small,” she said.

“I do think there are possibilities in the summer that we will be having lots of other opportunities to have more social interaction, but if you look at the modelling we did … we need to find a sweet spot.”

Coronavirus outbreak: B.C. announces 29 new COVID-19 cases, bringing total to 1,647
Coronavirus outbreak: B.C. announces 29 new COVID-19 cases, bringing total to 1,647

Several large-scale events have already been cancelled across B.C. this year. Vancouver’s Vaisakhi Parade, which normally brings thousands to the city’s streets, took place virtually on Saturday.

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Shortly after Henry’s comments, the Vancouver Pride Society announced it would be hosting a “virtual Pride Week celebration” this summer and is in contact with its vendors and partners to make the necessary arrangements.

“Pride can’t be cancelled,” VPS executive director Andrea Arnot said in a statement. “Our community has always found resilient ways to adapt to challenging situations — we will adapt together through this one.”

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Laura Ballance, spokesperson for the PNE, said Saturday that this week would have normally seen the hiring of 2,500 workers for both Playland and the Fair at the PNE in anticipation for their summer openings.

While that hiring has been put on hold, she said the PNE is still looking toward a tentative July 1 opening — though what exactly that opening entails is still up in the air.

READ MORE: B.C. health officials: Mid-May earliest possible time to lift COVID-19 restrictions

“I think everybody recognizes that this is a very fluid situation, and every event … is doing the best they can to reconcile that moment where it makes sense to postpone or cancel,” she said.

Ballance said that decision can’t be made too prematurely, pointing to the impact it could have on jobs for young people and the local economy.

She estimates the PNE’s summer events alone contribute $85 million to the City of Vancouver each year, while Metro Vancouver sees a boon of more than $200 million annually from the company year-round.

B.C. social distancing measures could remain in place for more than a year
B.C. social distancing measures could remain in place for more than a year

The PNE also needs to consider the impact on its vendors who rely on the events for their own bottom line.

“We need to balance all those things with the right thing,” she said. “Obviously, we’re going to work very, very closely with health authorities and government to ensure we’re doing the right thing at the right time.”

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Ballance said the PNE is currently modelling a number of scenarios for what an outdoor fair in the middle of a pandemic could look like.

READ MORE: Who in B.C. is getting coronavirus and who is most severely affected?

“There may be opportunities given the size of our site and a number of different things that may allow us to do some form of something,” she said, suggesting physical distancing could still be maintained by limiting crowds and spacing vendors further apart.

She said Henry’s comments haven’t affected that planning, though admitted things could change.

Henry said although many summer plans will be different this year, she urged people to remain optimistic while continuing to practice physical distancing and finding other ways to come together.

“We have to keep a hold of that, that the things we’re doing right now are not forever,” she said. “This is not the time for [large events] and it will not be through this summer, [but] it will be again in our future.”