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B.C. arts and culture looking for re-opening clarity as province looks towards easing restrictions

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While the B.C. government has promised more details on the provincial reopening plan next week, some restaurant operators and arts venues say they need as much notice as possible to start the long process to restarting. Richard Zussman reports. – May 19, 2021

Leaders in the B.C. arts and culture sector are asking the provincial government for clear guidelines on what it will take to reopen the economy.

Arts Club artistic director Ashlie Corcoran says they’ve had to cancel 24 productions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and have lost $13 million in possible revenues.

Corcoran says the theatre company can put on smaller shows safely with COVID protocols in place and are hopeful to have a full theatre for larger shows in December.

“We are looking at Broadway, which is opening this fall, and London which opened on Wednesday, and looking to them and public health to help create these plans moving forward,” Corcoran said.

“What we are looking for is the metrics so we can do some planning on our end.”

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The provincial government has promised a re-opening plan next week, but will not ease any restrictions until after the upcoming May long weekend.

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Currently, social gatherings, events, in-person dining and religious gatherings, as well as inter-provincial travel, are banned in B.C.

The restrictions expire early next week and the province has not indicated whether they will be eased or extended.

The B.C. government is expected to present a phased approach, where some parts of the economy open sooner, based on rates of immunization, case counts and hospital capacity.

Saskatchewan has already introduced a full re-opening plan based on immunization levels and Ontario is set to unveil a plan on Thursday.

British Columbia has recently seen a substantial drop in daily COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and active cases of the virus.

The province is still seeing nearly 500 new cases of the virus on average each day, but that’s down from the peak of more than 1,100 new cases a day in early April.

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Corcoran says the Arts Club understands the curtains won’t be raised immediately, but they do need more information to help make planning decisions.

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“We hope we can be open — at least to have small gatherings of up to 50 people we had last fall,” Corcoran said.

“We need to let our audience know, acquire the rights to the script and then do all of the pre-production work, the design work and rehearse the show.”

Health minister Adrian Dix says the province is also watching test positivity. The province’s positivity rate is 6.7 per cent, down from a peak of 10.8 per cent in early April.

British Columbia is also approaching 80 per cent of residents 50-plus receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

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Dix acknowledges the pandemic has been exceptionally hard for the non-profit and arts and culture sectors.

“What I want everyone to do is to continue to bear down, to follow provincial health orders and provincial health guidelines. It is particularly important on long weekends as we have seen,” Dix said.

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“We are obviously going to work with all those sectors as we take actions based on lower case counts, based on lower hospitalizations.”

The restaurant sector has been vocal as well about a need to have information in advance of re-opening.

Como Taperia co-owner Shaun Layton says they’ve been fortunate to have some outdoor patio space, but continuing without in-person dining is unsustainable.

One of Layton’s biggest challenges is getting his restaurant ready quickly if the province decides to re-open in-person dining.

Read more: B.C. restaurants need industry-specific government support to survive, association says

“It makes scheduling really hard. A lot of these people need to work. We need to prep food. We need to order food. Our suppliers are wondering what is going on,” Layton said.

“We have staff who have kids in schools or daycare and have other jobs. And right now, they are just waiting for a press conference that may happen on Thursday or Tuesday.”

Layton says smaller restaurants, with limited patio space, are disproportionately impacted by a last-minute re-opening.

For example, a larger restaurant with a big patio would already have the food and staff in place to re-open if the province announces next week in-person dining can resume immediately.

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If in-person dining resumes, it is expected it will be down with the same COVID-19 safety plans as in March, with a maximum of six people per table all from the same household.

“If we are told to open, there are a lot of restaurants that could lose a week and that sucks,” Layton said. “That means they are losing customers to someone else.”

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