Spectators will be allowed to return to watch indoor school sports in British Columbia as of this weekend, but attendance will be capped at 50 per cent.
B.C. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said the capacity limit will be in place to ensure physical distancing, as proof of vaccination won’t be required from attendees.
“In order to ensure there is access, and equitable access to those activities, the vaccine card does not apply,” Whiteside said Wednesday.
The capacity cap will apply to extracurricular events, whether they are on or off school property, Whiteside said, marking a return to rules that were in effect prior to the Omicron wave of COVID-19.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has declared school-based activities an essential service, so visitors do not need to present a vaccine passport.
“We’re really happy about that, it’s a big step for us. It’s been many months with no fans, so I think the kids are excited about that,” Jordan Abney, executive director of BC School Sports, told Global News.
Abney said there appeared to be “a bit of a grey area” around how the rules would apply to venues not on school grounds, particularly if those facilities do require vaccine passports, and that his organization was in discussions with the education ministry over the issue.
Parents Global News spoke with were happy about the opportunity to see their kids play again, but said the changes were too slow and didn’t go far enough.
“Why are they waiting until Saturday when the (important games) are happening right now?” asked parent Michelle Klim, who has two students at Chilliwack’s G.W. Graham Secondary.
“There’s a lot of parents in Grade 11 and Grade 12 who will never watch their children play if they don’t make it to the provincials.”
Klim said parents of kids in senior grades have essentially missed their children’s high school sporting careers, forced to watch competitions via livestream on their phones, parked outside the school.
She said the capacity limits don’t make sense, when the Canucks can play in front of full crowds.
“It’s 100-per cent capacity at Rogers Arena, so why not have it at 100-per cent capacity for us parents to be cheering on our high school students?” she said.
Some parent advisory council members also say communication with the province over sports issues has been lacking.
“We’re learning about it sometimes after the fact and it is frustrating,” said Alex Joehl, vice-president of Langley’s HD Stafford Middle School PAC.
“It’s dated information, so I would appreciate if there was a little more transparency.”
The rule changes come just as the winter season for school sports, which includes basketball, wrestling and gymnastics, draws to a close.
Abney said it wasn’t yet clear how the spring season, which includes largely outdoor events, will be affected, but that he was hopeful for a return to normal.
“That’s something we’ll be exploring more with the ministry, about outdoor events,” he said.
“They haven’t been too clear about (it). It does say indoor in their language, so we’re hoping with those outdoor events we’ll be at full capacity.”
— with files from the Canadian Press