The weather forecast calls for cool temperatures and rain, but it’s patio season, nonetheless.
Those in the restaurant industry were delivered a crushing blow Monday when provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry suspended indoor dining and liquor service across B.C., limiting restaurants to patio and takeout service.
The health order, which came without warning, was made only a few days after the province relaxed rules to allow indoor church worship. However, that, too, was taken off the table in the March 29 announcement.
The suspension, which also includes indoor adult group fitness, is to last for three weeks, in what Henry called a “circuit breaker,” following a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases. The rule was to go into effect at midnight March 29 and extends to April 19.
While The Derby Bar and Grill (17637 1 Ave.) has been ahead of the curve when it comes to health protections – they mandated masks months before the province did – general manager Drew Forster said he didn’t see this one coming.
“This one snuck up on us a little bit. But we just roll with the punches and do what we can,” Forster said. “It’s not a fun decision for anybody, even the people that make these decisions.”
Forster said the Derby will continue to offer takeout options and patio service.
“Right now I’m busy pressure washing my patio,” Forster said over the phone to Peace Arch News. “We’re going to try and get some TVs out there… I mean, it’s tough times. We’re just trying to do what we can to get a little bit of action.”
Jan’s on the Beach (14989 Marine Dr.) owner Jan Wait was also caught off-guard by Monday’s public health order. She said they had just finished hiring more staff. Now, she said, everybody has been put on hold for three weeks.
“We were just getting back on our feet again and, wham, back down again,” Wait said. “The stress was pretty overwhelming yesterday. Oh well, it is what it is.”
Jan’s is offering patio service as well as takeout.
South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce executive director Ritu Khanna said that while health and safety must be of paramount concern, the way the most recent restrictions were imposed leaves much to be desired.
“We were devastated,” Khanna said. “We know it’s going to hit our hospitality industry hard. We’re disappointed that there was not more notice given. Unfortunately, this seems to keep happening.”
She noted that this time of year, with multiple celebrations such as Passover, Easter and Ramadan approaching, people could be expected to go out for meals with their close families.
“It’s an important time for these businesses – a lot have lined up staff and ordered extra supplies,” she said.
Khanna said the Chamber has a “strong advocacy voice” which is going to be used to lobby the provincial government.
“We want the government to know that restrictions have real consequences that have to be taken into account,” she said. “Otherwise, we’re going to see premature closures of businesses.”
On March 25, Henry relaxed rules for indoor religious services on a trial basis. A public health variance order issued on that day allowed for indoor worship services on four days between March 28 and May 13. The variance required physical distancing, masks, and a limit on attendance to 50 people or 10 per cent of capacity, whichever is less.
Four days after the allowance was granted, Henry reversed her decision. During a press conference Monday (March 29), Henry said the March 25 allowance was always conditional on the state of the virus.
But province reversing its order meant very little to Peninsula United Church.
Rev. Janice Young said, even with the province initially allowing in-person worship on a limited basis, they had no plans to do so.
“We have an older demographic and they’re being very cautious and following the public health guidelines. When we heard last week that the restrictions were being lifted, we weren’t ready to even entertain going to in-person,” Young said.
Honouring Easter without being in church on Sunday is hard, Young said, but “every Sunday is hard.”
“Weighing that with the potential consequences of meeting in person… it’s not worth it. It’s more important to us to keep each other safe. We believe God is present all of the time, whether we’re together, watching the service in our own homes, or whether we’re in person at the sanctuary. God is with us.”
The Church of the Holy Trinity’s Simon Johnston said while it’s disappointing that the province pulled back the opportunity to host in-person services on Easter, he understands the reasoning.
“The suddenness of the announcement could only mean that the statistics did not look good with regard to COVID-19 cases spiking, as it does. We fully support the suspension, even though it’s painful for us and goes contrary to every practice that we’ve had for centuries,” Johnston said.
The Holy Trinity, much like Peninsula United, has been offering its worship services online for about a year.
– with files from Alex Browne