Health Minister and Provincial Health Officer say a very firm ‘No’ to request by banquet hall owners to relax COVID-19 rules for them

THE B.C. Banquet Hall Association’s request to the provincial government to relax COVID-19 rules for them because they are facing tremendous pressure from customers to bend the rules and have been losing tens of thousands of dollars has been firmly turned down by Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

And they have made it perfectly clear that the request to allow more customers than the current limit of 50 if the establishments follow all the protocols is out of the question.

Dr. Henry said on Monday: “No, there is no opportunity in my mind right now. We need to continue to hold the line that we’re holding and that includes for any event – whether it’s in a banquet hall, whether it’s in a church, whether it’s in a restaurant or a bar.”

And Dix added: “These are the rules right now and they simply have to be followed, and they have to be followed by everybody and I think we’ll continue for some time, some significant time in the future to say ‘No’ to requests to relax these rules.”

Sukh Mann, president of the association, said: “In most cases, these families have been having private events leading up to a wedding for several days. When they come to our hall for a wedding reception, we are now asking them to sit separately and not go to the bar for a drink. They are arguing with us there and claiming they are all in the same social bubble. We have no way of knowing that and end up being the bad guy for not allowing them to party how they want to. In some cases, this has led clients not paying for the venue after the event.”

He said: “Some larger venues have been accommodating more than one group at a time because they can be separated into sections with wall dividers or are able to portion out the seating, much like restaurants and even provide separate bars and bathroom facilities. However, the huge cost difference of having a buffet vs. individual meals is not sitting well with those looking to book a banquet hall and again the pressure to bend the rules has been on for most owners.”

Dr. Henry, replying to a question from a reporter, pointed out: “Right now for consistency across the board, we are staying at 50 [people] and that is for a variety of reasons.

“It’s, one, to ensure that physical distancing measures can be put in place with that number and that we can follow up with people rapidly with a small number if there is a small number of people who are potentially exposed.

“So there is a variety of reasons why we have stayed with that number consistently through the last few months as we’ve restarted and there is good reasons for doing that. We’ve seen cases that have arisen in other places. We know when there are more people than that, the chances of somebody coming in with the virus and potentially spreading it go up dramatically and we’ve seen what happens with that when we look at parties that were happening, for example, on the long weekend in July and again, in August.

“We’ve also seen it at places like religious gatherings and right now we have a number of people in the north who attended a large religious gathering in Alberta where cases were spread.”

Dix said: “In British Columbia we don’t have a lot of rules but this is one of the main ones and I wouldn’t expect any relaxation on it. The answer to the request is simply ‘No’ – not because we don’t understand the value of banquet halls and the services they provide, but these are especially the kinds of events – especially the kinds of events – that we have to address right now. And we’ve seen that as we look case by case through new cases, we need to hold the line on public gatherings at 50 – and that is going to continue to happen for a good, long period in front of us.

Dix said: “Also, I want to say to people, in particular the people who are hosting special events such as weddings, maybe such as parties for hockey games and other things, this is especially important to them, these are of course critical events in people’s lives and … weddings and stuff are events that one plans for, in many cases, years in advance, but it would be absolutely catastrophic and the wrong way to start a life together to be involved in an event that spreads COVID-19 right now.”