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'Partying like it's 2019': Nightclubs pleased with timing of end of B.C.'s mask mandate

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The first weekend since B.C. lifted its mask mandate for indoor public spaces brought crowds and a sense of optimism to the province's nightlife industry.

Jeff Guignard, executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of B.C., told CTV News on Saturday that the timing of the change will be a boon to businesses.

"People are absolutely partying like it's 2019 this weekend," Guignard said. "We're getting really excited for next weekend too, right? It'll be the first St. Patrick's Day in two years where we can actually celebrate. St. Patrick's Day is typically one of our biggest days of the year, but it has not been for the last couple of years."

B.C. bars and nightclubs were ordered to close for much of the Omicron wave of COVID-19, but the province lifted many restrictions in mid-February.

When venues reopened, it was without the previous bans on dancing and limits to capacity, but masks and vaccine passports were still required.

Guignard said the February changes brought nightlife back in B.C., almost to what it was like before the pandemic.

"It felt for a lot of our customers like COVID was already over," he said. "On those dance floors, a lot of folks weren't wearing masks - customers that had already made the decision that they didn't want to do it anyway."

Social media videos showing large, maskless crowds at several Vancouver venues surfaced after the restrictions on capacity and dancing were lifted in February. That raised concerns for some, but it didn't deter the province from moving forward with further lifting of restrictions last week. 

COVID-19-related hospitalizations and ICU admissions have continued to trend downward since the changes that were made in February. It's too soon to say what effect, if any, the end of the mask mandate will have on coronavirus transmission and outcomes in the province.

B.C.'s mask mandate officially ended on Friday. The B.C. Vaccine Card will no longer be required for discretionary activities like going to restaurants and sporting events as of April 8.

"Getting rid of masks and vaccine verification doesn't necessarily seem like a whole lot, but those were the last restrictions impeding our businesses, so people are really excited," Guignard said.

"Frankly, it was impossible for industry to enforce some of those rules anyway, right? You'd go back and forth across the dance floor reminding people multiple times to wear their masks and customers just didn't do it. So that was taking a lot of staff time, as well." 

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