Forget about PNE, other summer events amid COVID-19 measures, says B.C.’s top doctor

If your summer plans were still hinging on heading to the PNE or a Pride parade, B.C.’s top doctor says that’s not going to happen this year.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Saturday that physical distancing measures put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 will remain through the season, and that organizers of those large outdoor events should be thinking about alternatives.

“We do not have enough herd immunity to protect everybody and allow that type of event to happen,” she said. “Large parades, large mass gatherings where we all come together — those will not be happening this summer.”

Henry said that also applies to weddings and other large family gatherings, urging people to consider reducing guest lists and finding other, virtual ways to connect.

“I would tell people to think small,” she said.

“I do think there are possibilities in the summer that we will be having lots of other opportunities to have more social interaction, but if you look at the modelling we did … we need to find a sweet spot.”

Several large-scale events have already been cancelled across B.C. this year. Vancouver’s Vaisakhi Parade, which normally brings thousands to the city’s streets, took place virtually on Saturday.

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Shortly after Henry’s comments, the Vancouver Pride Society announced it would be hosting a “virtual Pride Week celebration” this summer and is in contact with its vendors and partners to make the necessary arrangements.

“Pride can’t be cancelled,” VPS executive director Andrea Arnot said in a statement. “Our community has always found resilient ways to adapt to challenging situations — we will adapt together through this one.”

Laura Ballance, spokesperson for the PNE, said Saturday that this week would have normally seen the hiring of 2,500 workers for both Playland and the Fair at the PNE in anticipation for their summer openings.

The PNE also needs to consider the impact on its vendors who rely on the events for their own bottom line.

“We need to balance all those things with the right thing,” she said. “Obviously, we’re going to work very, very closely with health authorities and government to ensure we’re doing the right thing at the right time.”

Ballance said the PNE is currently modelling a number of scenarios for what an outdoor fair in the middle of a pandemic could look like.

“There may be opportunities given the size of our site and a number of different things that may allow us to do some form of something,” she said, suggesting physical distancing could still be maintained by limiting crowds and spacing vendors further apart.

She said Henry’s comments haven’t affected that planning, though admitted things could change.

Henry said although many summer plans will be different this year, she urged people to remain optimistic while continuing to practice physical distancing and finding other ways to come together.

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