'Things will be different': B.C.'s top doctor says some restrictions likely in place for at least a year
VANCOUVER -- Some of B.C.'s COVID-19 restrictions will most likely remain in place for at least a year, according to provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
"We're going to be doing things differently for a year. That doesn't mean we have to give up everything and that we're going to be in the same place that we are right now," she said. "I absolutely think we have some space. We have some space to be able to open things up, to connect with people, but not on those large-scale events."
Henry made the comments on Monday at her daily briefing on COVID-19, where she announced 52 new cases and five more deaths had been recorded since Saturday, bringing the total number of people who have succumbed to the virus in B.C. up to 86.
"For the next year, things will be different," she said. Dr. Henry said we could "get really lucky" and have an effective vaccine that comes out before the fall, but she's not optimistic about that option: "I just don't think that's going to happen."
The possibility of restrictions lasting a full year or more is raising concerns for many industries, including hospitality and tourism.
“If everything was to remain shut down for a year, the world will not have a tourism and hospitality industry,” said Fairmont Hot Springs Resort CEO Vivek Sharma. He’s part of a group of hospitality and tourism leaders who have banded together, asking the government for more help for things like rent relief.
“If I agreed on a rent for a 100 seat restaurant but now because of social distancing I can only seat 50 people in it, my revenue capacity is reduced by half but am I still expected to pay that rent which we had agreed on for 100 seat restaurant?” Sharm said.
He’s also concerned about the flow on impacts the industry is seeing. “All of our destination marketing organizations, they're all right now struggling for money because there’s no funding as there are no hotels generating room revenue, etc. etc.”
New modelling released by the province on Friday showed that virus rates are slowing down in B.C., and officials said the epidemic curve has been "well below projections based on the Italy and Hubei experience." However, that doesn't mean the current restrictions that have fundamentally changed daily life in B.C. can be fully lifted anytime soon.
"There's going to be a lot of things that we don't know yet. This is a really challenging year for everybody, for all of us," she said. "I can't foresee everything. I can say that it's unlikely we're going to have concerts…or major, big events."
Dr. Henry said it's unlikely the ban on mass gatherings or gatherings of 50 people or more will be lifted "in the near future." The restriction was put in place to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has infected at least 1,699 people across the province.
"These cases, we know, are risky," she said. "We know that we've had lots of cases associated, if we look around the world, with large events like concerts, like sporting events, like conferences. So those types of things are not going to happen this summer."
She said events like weddings or graduations can still go ahead, but for now, we need to be thinking about doing them a bit differently.
"We need to look at how we do it in a much smaller scale with those who are close to us and bring people in remotely to celebrate with us," she said.
She also raised the possibility of restaurants returning to dine-in service, “Part of it is my own personal desire to go back to my favorite restaurants, but I think there are ways and what I'm putting out there is, we need to be able to maintain those decreased connections.”
President of the B.C. Restaurants Industry, Ian Tostenson, told CTV News a task force was put together last week of industry experts for that very reason, “to make recommendations, following Dr. Henry’s guidance to help industry start to open in a safe and meaningful way.”
While Dr. Henry is confident that universities will be open next year, she said that could mean they move to more of a virtual model.
In the meantime, Dr. Henry, like many B.C. residents, said she looks forward to the day when restrictions can be safely lifted in full.
"I'm really looking forward to a really big party," she said. "We have to remember that we will have that time again."
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Alissa Thibault