B.C.’s nightclubs and stand-alone banquet halls have been ordered to close immediately to help stop the spread of COVID-19, health officials announced Tuesday.
The sale of alcohol in all bars, pubs and restaurants must also cease nightly at 10 p.m. Venues must also close at 11 p.m., unless they are providing full meal service, but they must not serve alcohol.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also announced measures that would make it easier for people to avoid speaking loudly. Music or other background sounds, such as from televisions, must be no louder than the volume of normal conversation.
Henry described the changes as a “last resort” but that the venues have been a source of significant risk and proved challenging for contact tracing.
“It is the time for all of us to cut back on our social interactions,” she said.
Henry added the issuing of orders is not something taken lightly, but that changes needed to be made to reduce the risk in certain environments.
“Despite weeks of effort by public health teams, these venues are still the source of significant risk to everybody in British Columbia,” she said.
“We adjusted the orders to try and make it a safer environment for people. But it in turn makes it more challenging to protect those who are more vulnerable to serious illness, and we are starting to see some spillover into other parts of our community.”
On Tuesday, health officials announced 429 more cases of COVID-19 had been recorded since Friday. Two more deaths were also recorded– both were residents of long-term care.
Henry said as the province’s caseload has climbed, the new restrictions are meant to remove “late night temptation” that has led to people mixing and transmitting the virus in certain venues.
“We need to find our balance to get us through the next few months to a year that we’re going to be living with COVID-19,” she said.
“And that means we have to have both our economy, our education system and our health system working. And we need to get back to that balance that we found when we were able to stop this virus, earlier on this year.”
In an interview with CTV News Channel, Sukh Mann, the president of the B.C. Banquet Association, said he was shocked by Tuesday’s announcement.
“429 cases over the weekend. I’d like to know how many came from banquet halls,” he said.
“How do we pay our property tax, how do we pay our rent? We all have mortgages. We all have to pay our employees. We have to pay our taxes. Where are we going to get this money from? We don’t know. We have to go to our government now and ask them, ‘so, you’re shutting us down now, what are you going to do for us?'”
In August, the association called on the province to increase their capacity to 50 per cent. They also said at the time they faced pressure from patrons wanting to break COVID-19 rules and were losing thousands of dollars in revenue while trying to operate safely.
Prior to Henry’s announcement, B.C.’s largest health authority said it would support further restrictions, and maybe even closures, at some of the province’s “problematic venues” during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that more regulations may be announced in the coming days.
During a phone call with media Tuesday morning, Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, Fraser Health’s interim chief medical officer, said the steady increase in COVID-19 cases is forcing health officials to consider where transmission is happening and whether more restrictions are needed.
“When we dig into the data there are certain locations that are indicated as being possibly problematic areas,” she said. “I know that (Dr. Bonnie Henry) is looking at bars and nightclubs as one possibility and also some large gatherings that have taken place around weddings and funerals.”
Brodkin said some large gatherings have been especially concerning.
“Large gatherings of up to 50 people can take place safely, but it means that social distancing and other control measures need to be in place,” she said. “So any large gathering where those control measures are not in place is a concern to us.”
Last month, the health authority issued exposure warnings for a hookah lounge, an event billed as a rave, two pubs and a general store.