Vancouver holiday events face uncertainty amid new COVID-19 restrictions

B.C. holiday attractions awaiting clarification on whether they can operate

Some major Lower Mainland holiday events are scrambling for clarity about whether and how they’ll be able to operate under B.C.’s new COVID-19 restrictions.

The sweeping health order was unveiled Thursday, amid rising COVID-19 cases driven by spikes in transmission in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

The order banned social gatherings of any type province-wide, and restricted community events until Dec. 7.

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On Friday, uncertainty around the order prompted the Pacific National Exhibition to hit pause on the Best Buy Tech Wonderland drive-through event.

Spokesperson Laura Balance said the PNE is seeking clarity from the province and Vancouver Coastal Health about the event and the upcoming WinterLights drive-through.

Balance said she was “cautiously optimistic” the event would still get the green light, given the PNE’s prior success with events during the pandemic.

“Since early in the summer, the PNE has really led the country in drive-through experiences, ones that adhere to all social distancing protocols and are developed under the oversight, and really adhering to all the best practices recommended by all of the health authorities,” she said.

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Visitors to the event will be required to stick to their household bubble, and stay in their vehicle at all times, she said.

Attendees will also be required to wear masks, she added.

“We are, we believe, well exceeding the protocols that have been recommended, we’ll wait and see obviously.”

The Vancouver Park Board is also looking to clarify what the order means for the upcoming VanDusen Festival of Lights and Bright Nights Christmas Train in Stanley Park.

“We’re optimistic,” said park board spokesperson Christine Ulmer.

“We went through a very extensive safety protocol and planning process, and we worked with Vancouver Coastal Health as well as the provincial health officer on the new safety plan.

“We did have special exemptions for these two events to operate, so we’re just not sure if those exemptions will still apply or we’ll need to make some significant changes — or worst case scenario, to cancel the events for the year.”

The VanDusen event is being cut to about 20 per cent of its normal capacity, will be strictly outdoors and visitors will have time limits, she said.

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Activities such as photos with Santa, that traditionally have cause bottlenecks, have been scrapped.

The Stanley Park event, which raises money for the B.C. Professional Firefighters Burn Fund won’t have firefighters present, and plexiglass has been installed to keep people separate, she said.

Masks will be required at both events, if they’re given the green light, she added.

Ulmer said the number one priority remains safety, but added she’s hopeful the events can go ahead to add a bright spot in an otherwise dark winter.

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“For many Vancouverites and people who come from around the region, it’s a tradition,” she said.

“It really signals the holidays and a sense of normalcy for people in a time when things are anything but normal.”

While the orders took effect on Thursday, their detailed text has not yet been published.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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