Prince Rupert restaurants opened May 25 as the B.C. government has begun easing COVID-19 restrictions despite being hit harder than most.
B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan has begun with a return of indoor restaurant dining for up to six people, and indoor home gatherings for up to five people or one additional household.
This is the first of four stages of lifting public health restrictions, and further stages depend on coronavirus infection rates and hospitalizations remaining stable. Rules for indoor dining and fitness have returned to what they were before the “circuit breaker” restrictions took effect at the end of March, with dining and liquor service until 10 p.m.
The provincial move comes just days after the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce (PRDCC) had requested a local recission of in-restaurant prohibitions for the city.
“We believe that indoor dining, with social distancing and barriers as required, could and should be restored on a community-by-community basis throughout BC., Michael Gurney, PRDCC president wrote in a letter to Minister of Health Adrian Dix.
“Our members have expressed clearly and emphatically that the current indoor dining restrictions are causing undue economic hardship, especially in light of reduced transmission and cases of COVID-19. Four restaurants in our city alone have closed their doors, experiencing catastrophic loss of revenues, to await a relaxation of restrictions.”
Gurney argued that the provincial “circuit breaker” restrictions were especially punitive to Prince Rupert businesses.
“The current provincial health orders allow patio dining and takeout service. However, Prince Rupert’s climate is an impediment to patio dining. The city experiences an average of 229 days of rain per year (in 2020, a full third of our average annual rainfall accumulated during June, July and August). In other words, environmental conditions do not allow city restaurateurs to take advantage of freedoms enjoyed in other parts of the province,” Gurney stated.
“Service sector labour shortages are making it difficult for local restaurant operators to retain staff to work decreased hours. The increase of employment opportunities at the Port of Prince Rupert and its related operations has significantly curtailed the available workforce for small to medium-size businesses. Because of reduced service levels, restaurant managers are losing staff (either through layoffs or resignations) whom they may not be able to re-hire when conditions improve.”
If coronavirus infection rates continue to fall and vaccination rates to rise, Step 1 would extend to midnight as early as June 15.
Step 2, which is tentatively scheduled to begin on June 15 (once 65 per cent of B.C. is vaccinated, and if hospitalizations drop) will allow for outdoor social gatherings of up to 50 people and playdates, but indoor gatherings will stay capped at five visitors or one additional household.
For organized gatherings, indoor ones of up to 50 people seated will be allowed indoors (with a COVID safety plan), while the province will begin to consult with various sectors about larger organized outdoor gatherings.
As of July 1, the third step of B.C. reopening plan will see a “return to usual for indoor or outdoor personal gatherings” and allow for sleepovers, as long as 70 per cent of B.C. is vaccinated, and if hospitalizations continue to drop. The forecast for organized gatherings is less clear; government documents only state that fairs and festivals will be allowed and “increased capacity” will be in place for indoor and outdoor organized gatherings. Both will require COVID safety plan.
July 1 is also the date when masks may become simply recommended, and not mandated as they have been in B.C. since the fall.
If vaccination rates hit 70 per cent of eligible individuals, on Sept 7, Step 4 will be instituted allowing social gatherings to return to normal and large organized events can resume if cases and hospitalizations continue to drop.