One industry group believes the province went too far in shutting down nightclubs and imposing liquor sale limits on bars and restaurants.
“It feels like a punch in the gut for a number of operators that have been doing everything they can to comply with the most stringent public health orders every created in our industry,” said executive director Jeff Guignard of the B.C. Alliance of Beverage Licensees.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued an order shutting down nightclubs and standalone banquet halls, as well as cutting off liquor sales at bars and restaurants after 10 p.m. Restaurants that serve a food menu can stay open until regular hours, but those without must close by 11 p.m. Henry also mandated that music, televisions or any other background noise must be no louder than conversation level, so that patrons do not have to shout – and spread potentially infectious droplets – to be heard.
The rules come as B.C. reported 429 COVID-19 cases over the Labour Day long weekend. On Wednesday, B.C. reported 100 new cases, with 1,378 currently active.
Guignard said the industry has been a victim of its own success, saying nightclubs are providing lists of 500 to 1,000 names to help contact tracers. But although she said they have done a “great job,” it’s that contact tracing that Henry cited as part of the reason why those establishments must shut down, dubbing them “high risk environments” that take up too much of contact tracers’ time.
“By the nature of the environment, the type of entertainment and the things that people go to a nightclub to do, it is an inherently risky thing. It’s not unique to us here in B.C., we’ve seen it in Quebec and in Ontario now. We’ve seen it in places like Korea where they had things very much under control and there was extensive outbreaks related to transmissions in nightclubs.”
Vancouver Coastal Health lists 12 possible exposure events at restaurants, bars or clubs since Aug. 13.
Guignard said the orders reflect more on British Columbians than it does on nightclub operators themselves.
“I view it as a statement that British Columbians are not taking the virus seriously anymore, and it’s almost like the adults have say ‘everyone back to your corners,’” he said.
Guignard said staff at nightclubs, restaurants and bars are consistently having to remind patrons of COVID-19 rules, like parties of six or more and no wandering around the establishment.
He also pointed out that nightclubs, which in their pre-COVID state may not seem ideal environments for stopping virus transmission, have changed sharply in recent months.
“When you say the word nightclub, they think of… bars, dance floors with sweaty young folks pressed together, completely violating social distancing,” Guignard said. “Nightclubs have been operating more like a lounge.. the only thing that’s similar is that they have loud music playing. It’s more of a VIP lounge experience.”
For the restriction on alcohol sales after 10 p.m., he said he doesn’t understand the point of a time cut-off.
“I don’t entirely understand the logic of people saying they’re more likely to have too much to drink past 10 p.m., but not going to have too much to drink past 8 p.m. or 6 p.m. or 4 p.m. That doesn’t really feel logical to me.”
Rather than shutting down establishments, Guignard wishes the province would help with enforcement of the rules.
“I really think the solution here is clear education and enforcement targeted at citizens who are not following this,” he said. B.C. did unveil fines several weeks ago that totalled $200 per individual and up to $2,000 for hosts and organizers, although Guignard would like “put an extra zero on either one of those numbers.”
Although the exact wording of Henry’s amended public health order hasn’t been made public yet, Guignard said what would help would be an end date, or a goal.
“Are we closing for a few weeks to try and get a handle on the virus? Then we have your back, absolutely. Or can we get a target; we have to get it down to no more than 50 new cases a day, or 10 new cases.”
But as it stands, Guignard said the industry, 50 per cent of which is losing money, needs financial help to get through the next few months. The industry employs about 192,000 workers, many of whom could be laid off as nightclubs close and bars lose valuable earning hours after 11 p.m. Many bars, Guignard said, only begin to make a profit around 10 p.m.; before that, earnings go towards wages, rent and other expenses.
“Just because I can’t serve alcohol past 10 p.m. doesn’t mean my landlord’s going to want 20 per cent less rent.”
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