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Dr. Bonnie Henry is shown during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad HipolitoCHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry says she supports culture, has concerns about the impact of shutdowns on the arts sector and will allow in-person events “as soon as we can.” But she did not specify a time frame.

“We need art and music and theatre in our lives,” Dr. Henry told The Globe and Mail on Monday. “It’s about how do we find that balance where we can try and keep people’s livelihoods going in a way that’s safe, as well as having the things that we can do safely remotely.

“The virus doesn’t recognize if you’re a group of people in a theatre or a group of people in a church or a group of people in a restaurant.”

Later in the day, Dr. Henry announced that she is working with faith leaders on the gradual reopening of religious services, beginning with outdoor gatherings. The goal, she said, was to introduce some measures in time for Easter and Passover. Passover begins the evening of March 27; Good Friday is April 2 this year.

British Columbia has faced criticism from the arts sector for allowing businesses such as bars and restaurants to continue operating – but not cinemas or theatres.

Restaurants in B.C. have remained open for dine-in service, with restrictions. In the interview, when asked why restaurants could open but theatres could not, Dr. Henry pointed out that restaurants were allowing only small groups of people and contact tracing was being employed.

When theatres were allowed to open for a window last year, seating was physically distanced and contact tracing was employed. They were ordered closed in November, as COVID-19 case numbers grew.

Dr. Henry said keeping schools open has been the top priority. As for restaurants, she pointed out that not only do they provide a needed service – sustenance – but said closing restaurants as well as retail establishments could affect vulnerable populations.

“When we close those things, the people who are disproportionately affected are low-wage earners, women, racialized populations and the downstream impacts of that on people, the inequities that we have, for long-term, it needs to be balanced with the risk of spreading of the virus,” she said in an interview.

Among the most vocal critics of the government’s closing of arts venues during the pandemic has been Corinne Lea, who owns and operates the Rio Theatre in Vancouver.

To illustrate the point, the independent cinema has stopped showing films (it also used to present live music, before COVID-19) and turned the theatre into a sports bar, allowing it to operate.

“Bonnie Henry announced plans to reopen Churches,” Ms. Lea tweeted after the announcement Monday. “But still no mention of arts venues. Meanwhile they doubled our seating at [The Rio] as soon as we became a sports bar. Yet cinemas remain closed. So don’t tell me this is about safety & science.”

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