Scores of people flocked to Vancouver’s English Bay Saturday night for a raucous party as the province continues to grapple with its third wave of COVID-19.
Footage from the scene shows a crowd of people drinking, dancing and hugging to loud music — most of them without masks — on Beach Avenue, in violation of pandemic restrictions.
On Sunday, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart weighed in on the issue tweeting he understands the city has faced a long, frustrating winter but that “now is not the time to be gathering in large groups.”
Stewart said he’d spoken with Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer and that police would be “reassessing their approach to outdoor parties.” But he added that police have better things to do, noting officers were responding to a homicide at the same time as the party at English Bay.
“So instead of adding to their plate, putting yourself & others at risk, and adding stress to our health care system, stay close to home and out of large groups,” Stewart wrote.
“It’s not forever, it’s just until we can roll out vaccines and get our community protected.”
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth had harsher words for the revelers.
“Gathering in parties, where you are close together, drinking, not being masked up, not observing social distance is a recipe to spread COVID. These people who are doing this are just incredibly irresponsible,” he said.
“The bottom line is this, if we want to beat COVID people have to smarten up. They need to understand they need to follow the PHOs orders, it’s that simple.”
Vancouver police spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin said police had their hands full Saturday night dealing with a homicide, a stabbing that left its victim in critical condition and a five-vehicle collision.
“Vancouver is a major city with lots going on so we have to prioritize calls,” Visintin said.
“Sometimes its not feasible for us to go to a public health call … compared to a murder, for example.”
The province has permitted outdoor social gatherings of up to 10 people.
Public health experts maintain that COVID-19 is primarily spread indoors, and that outdoor gatherings significantly reduce the risk of transmission.
However, health officials have repeatedly pleaded with people to keep their gatherings small and with a consistent group of people, to keep their distance, and to mask up when distancing is not possible.
Michael Brauer, a professor at UBC’s School of population and public health, said a crackdown on outdoor gatherings could backfire by driving people’s social activity indoors.
“There is a possibility that if we have very strict restrictions on outdoor gatherings that people will congregate more indoors where we know the transmission is actually much worse,” he told Global News.
At the same time, Brauer said anyone who is gathering outside should be trying to stick to the smallest group possible, and be taking extra precautions such as masking and distancing.
“What was safe last summer really isn’t as safe any more,” Brauer said.
“Even though people understand that understand that outdoors is much safer than indoors, when you still have those close contacts, especially close contacts with people outside of your household, with these new variants you can get transmission outdoors.”
That was provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s message at her Thursday briefing.
“Even if we can see people outside our household, we shouldn’t right now. And if we do, it needs to be the same small group of people. We know outside is lower risk. It’s not zero,” Henry said.
“So if I am seeing a group of 10 people, the probability that one of them has the virus and has potential to spread it to me, right now, is highest than it’s ever been.”
On Friday, Saskatchewan’s health authority linked at least 40 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the U.K., to an outdoor party over the Easter weekend.
The province is grappling with surging cases, now averaging more than 1,000 per day, driven primarily by aggressive new variants.
The P.1 variant, first identified in Brazil and which has gained a foothold in Vancouver, is known to be more contagious and more likely to land younger adults in intensive care.
The English Bay gathering came a day after debate raged on social media about an impromptu Friday evening dance party at Kits Beach.
Vancouver Park Board Lead Ranger Chris Penton told Global News Saturday rangers’ main priority over the weekend is educating people and reminding them about restrictions.
“When we see people who look like they’re all the same age, they’re obviously not siblings or part of the same household and their facing each other and they’re talking to each other for more than five to 10 minutes, you are putting yourself at risk. Which then puts others at risk,” he said.View link »