B.C. introduces new rules for restaurant capacity during COVID-19 reopening
VANCOUVER -- A revised provincial health order issued Wednesday no longer limits restaurants to 50 per cent of their usual capacity, though it still places a limit on how many people can dine in at a time.
The updated order from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry requires restaurants to "determine the maximum number of patrons and staff that (their) premises can accommodate if they are standing or sitting two metres apart."
Restaurants must document this number in the safety plan they are required to have in order to reopen under B.C.'s COVID-19 restart plan, and they must monitor the number of patrons and staff inside at all times to ensure it doesn't exceed this total.
The revised language of the order removes a previous direction that said "there must be no more than 50 per cent of the usual capacity of patrons present at one time."
During her update on the province's response to the pandemic Thursday, Henry said the revised order was the result of consultations with restaurant owners, environmental health officers, inspectors and WorkSafeBC.
"This is what we said we would do," Henry said. "We would try things out. There were things that were not working, so we modified it to make it more clear for the owners and operators of the restaurants and pubs and for the inspectors."
The provincial health officer said the revised capacity rule takes into account patio space, which many restaurants have been expanding in an effort to make ends meet during the province's reopening.
"This was one of the complicating things," Henry said. "As you're expanding your patio, how do we know what number to use? So, it will be done in collaboration, and we'll have a defined capacity that will allow us to understand how better to enforce the rules."
The new language also allows for exceptions to the two-metre rule for space between tables. One exception is if the two separate tables are being occupied by members of the same party. The other is if restaurants install "a washable, rigid, impermeable partition" that stretches from the tabletop to at least 1.2 metres above it.
Partitions can also be used to separate patrons seated at counters, allowing restaurants to seat more parties closer together. Restaurants without partitions must seat patrons at least two metres apart at counters unless they are in the same party.
Henry said barriers have been "very effective" in restaurants that have used them so far, noting that they've allowed some of the province's smaller restaurants to reopen safely.
Other changes in the revised order include new rules regarding self-serve areas in restaurants, as well as "choke points" where people are likely to congregate, Henry said.
The order says self-serve areas must include a hand-washing area or hand-sanitizer station within easy reach, and restaurants must post signs reminding patrons to wash or sanitize their hands before touching self-serve food or other items.
Regarding choke points, the order requires restaurants to identify them and "use physical devices, install markers or use other methods to guide and assist patrons in maintaining a distance of two metres from one another."
Asked about the logic behind allowing self-service areas in restaurants, such as buffets, Henry clarified that such facilities were never ordered to close.
"They were never not allowed," she said. "They were not recommended, and we had guidance around that."
The new rules codify the procedures necessary for such areas to be operated safely, she said.
"It is not, in any way, allowing something that was disallowed before, but it is putting in place the restrictions that need to be in place for them to operate," Henry said.