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Dr. Bonnie Henry, seen here on March 11, 2020, made her comments as the province is considering options for easing the restrictions that aim to combat the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia’s public-health officer is challenging the province’s embattled restaurant industry, largely closed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, to come up with innovative options to allow for in-restaurant dining when B.C. eventually eases its pandemic restrictions.

In her daily briefing Monday, Bonnie Henry said the challenge is to figure out how to proceed without assembling large groups of people where there can be a risk of spreading the coronavirus among customers and causing a risk to staff.

“I think there are lots of innovative ways that we can have in-restaurant dining that protects both the staff, as well as people who are coming in. And I am looking to industry to come up with those ideas of how this could work,” she said.

She said there is no likelihood of a short-term return to all the norms of the past, but added, "This is not forever. This is for the foreseeable months, certainly this summer.”

Provincial orders currently ban gatherings of 50 people or more.

Dr. Henry made her comments as the province is considering options for easing the restrictions that aim to combat the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. On Monday, for example, she was dealing with questions about reopening schools, to some degree, and summer camps as well as restaurants.

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Ian Tostenson, president and chief executive officer of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said his organization assembled a group of at least 15 industry members last week to consider the future operation of restaurants, and Dr. Henry’s comments gives them some context for their work.

“She’s a rock star. She’s practical. She doesn’t impose. She involves people,” he said in an interview. “She’s inviting the industry to give input on how we can do this, and that’s really smart because there are really smart people in this industry.”

He said he had planned to write terms of reference for the group, but that Dr. Henry has, with her comments, essentially laid out the challenge ahead.

The industry group will try to figure out how the industry can restart in a profitable and safe manner, Mr. Tostenson said. “I think that we’ll find some innovation here. I really do. ...Restaurants are designed to be full at all times, but we’re going to have to rethink that and see how we can make it work given the initial restrictions we have of 50 people.”

He said the goal ahead is to come up with a master plan in fewer than 10 days, and then stress-test it through industry experts to fine tune a plan that could be a model for even operators outside British Columbia.

Mr. Tostenson said the B.C. restaurant industry, which has about 15,000 operations, is facing an unprecedented challenge, with about 175,000 of its 190,000 workers temporarily out of work. Some operators are offering takeout and delivery, but that’s not a sustainable business model unless it’s part of their core model.

“It’s a temporary means to getting back to having a full-service restaurant,” he said.

“That’s why it’s so important we have a bulletproof plan to get this industry in stage one of recovery, which is starting to do gradual opening and [getting] people used to coming back out.”

Now that it is recommended you wear a face covering in dense public settings like grocery stores and pharmacies, watch how to make the three masks recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Written instructions available at tgam.ca/masks

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