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Metro Vancouver summer weather brings concerns over social-distance scofflaws

Fears weekend of sunshine will set B.C. back on social distancing
WATCH: Fears weekend of sunshine will set B.C. back on social distancing

Continued summer-like weather this weekend has raised concerns that people are breaking coronavirus-related physical distancing guidelines as they seek the sun in Metro Vancouver.

Groups of up to 20 people were spotted lounging in Vancouver’s David Lam Park and Kitsilano Beach on Saturday, despite calls from health officials to keep two metres apart from people outside our households during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“I think the vast majority of people are obeying the rules, I think people are being really good and they understand what’s going on, but sometimes people focus in on the people that aren’t doing it really well,” said Vancouver Park Commissioner Tricia Barker.

Barker was echoing comments from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry earlier Saturday that while the social distance scofflaws were highly visible, they are in the minority.

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Henry has been adamant that British Columbians get out of their homes for exercise, but that the time has not yet come for us to expand our social circles.

Weekend warm weather leading to pandemic concerns
Weekend warm weather leading to pandemic concerns

However, she has also stuck to an approach that uses education rather than enforcement — asking British Columbians to be responsible, rather than legally requiring them to follow orders.

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“Please hold off. But if you are going to get together with people, it’s small groups of people. We do not want to see large groups of people congregating together within small physical distances, between two meters,” said Henry.

“That’s when we can spread it even if we’re standing outside. The risk is lower, but it is not zero if you are having close contact with somebody over a period of time … and we know we’re going to bring it back to our families, our close contacts.”

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Coronavirus outbreak: BC’s top doctor says they need to find ‘sweet spot’ in social interaction
Coronavirus outbreak: BC’s top doctor says they need to find ‘sweet spot’ in social interaction

The educational approach is one that Coquitlam has also been applying, according to Donnie Rosa, general manager of parks and recreation.

“It’s been said all the way along, your mental health, your physical health, it’s heightened, it’s better when you’re out in nature. And we’re lucky out here in B.C. to have this kind of weather,” said Rosa.

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“So we really want to convey to people that getting outside in a safe and healthy way, in a physical distance way, is the way to go.”

The city has deployed its park hosts to popular hotspots, where the message may not be resonating as well, on an educational campaign.

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“It’s absolutely a concern because people can’t physically distance, social distance in areas that are really busy. Like the Coquitlam Crunch, we had to make it a one-way trail,” Rosa said.

Rosa said the city is also asking people to explore some of its lesser-known parks, rather than the go-to attractions that draw big crowds.

That’s a message the Vancouver Park Board is also trying to convey.

“We have 240 parks in Vancouver, a lot of the parks are in your neighbourhood,” said Barker.

“If you use those parks instead of going to some of our destination parks it’s going to be a lot better, you’re going to have room to spread out.”

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Residents are also being asked to walk, cycle or take transit to parks, if possible, to avoid bunching up in parking lots.

As for how cities might respond if people fail to soak up the message?

“If people aren’t respecting the spaces, respecting the physical distancing, we’ll look at what we have to do,” said Rosa.