UPDATE: The 2020 Surrey Vaisakhi Parade has now been cancelled. Read the story here.
B.C.’s health minister hasn’t ruled out the Surrey Vaisakhi Parade going ahead this year, despite ongoing concerns with the COVID-19 outbreak.
Adrian Dix said there are three “significant” Vaisakhi events in the Lower Mainland, including Surrey. The other two are in Vancouver and Abbotsford, he said.
Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry said she’s received a lot of questions lately about small- and large-scale events. She said there’s a risk-assessment process in place to determine if events are viable.
“It’s a guidance that helps us look at who’s coming, is it indoors, is it outdoors, what are the things that increase the risk, but also what are the things that organizers of mass gatherings can do to help reduce the risk of participants,” she said. “That can be anything from encouraging and supporting people not to come if they’re sick; things like refunds or deferring payment, encouraging people and giving them the ability to clean their hands regularly, to allow space if things are outdoors.
“For example, it’s much easier and much less risk than indoors.”
She also mentioned that not having “communal meals” would be helpful.
“There’s a whole host of things we can do to reduce risk and still allow these important gatherings to happen.”
Henry added that people should recognize “the transmission that we have right now is very low, and most of our risk is really around (international) travel.” She said that including Washington state as well.
The Surrey Vaisakhi Parade, which is the largest outside of India, is set for April 25.
The 21st-annual event is a daylong celebration of the birth of the Sikh faith, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
When asked if the Surrey event, which is expected to attract 500,000 people, should be cancelled, Dix said the event is “a little distance away.”
“But the same applies here that we have a risk-assessment model that can be applied to every event, and we’re hoping event organizers in circumstances like that engage with health authorities to make decisions in the best interest of all the people that might go and the whole community,” said Dix.
He said the health authorities, Fraser and Vancouver Coastal will be following up with the organizers.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, but also said it’s not too late for countries to act on it.
For more coverage on COVID-19 and coronavirus, visit surreynowleader.com/tag/coronavirus.
– With files from Tom Zillich