Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver here.
The first phase of British Columbia’s reopening plan began Tuesday, with the easing of restrictions that had forced many to shutter by the end of March.
The province has travelled a slightly different path than others in the country: Like elsewhere, restaurants and hair salons were closed by order of the provincial health office. However, retail shops were not forced to shut down, though most chose not to operate within the strict guidelines required. Construction sites, with requirements for physical distancing and other health and safety measures, were able to continue in British Columbia. Even schools in the province were not entirely closed, with the children of essential service workers able to attend classes.
Tuesday marked a loosening of restrictions. But the first phase of the reopening has put the onus on business owners and customers to adhere to a daunting series of responsibilities and adaptations. As Justine Hunter and Mike Hager report today, restaurant operators must collect contact information from patrons, magazine racks will disappear from waiting rooms, elevator access will be curtailed, plexiglass barriers will separate workspaces, and customers can expect to be turned away if they have a sniffle or cough.
Restaurants can only open at 50-per-cent capacity, but even then, must be able to space tables out by two metres and have tables of no more than six patrons.
Ian Tostenson, president and chief executive officer of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, predicted that just 60 per cent of all establishments would open up by the end of the month.
For many smaller restaurants, reopening doesn’t make economic sense.
Edward Geekiyanage said his Pink Peppercorn Seafood House in East Vancouver could realistically hold four tables if it opened Tuesday, when the new rules took effect. As long as different guests must dine at least two metres apart, he will not be reopening his 75-seat restaurant on the busy Kingsway thoroughfare. Instead, he will continue to cook, package and sell take-out lunch and dinner options with the help of his wife and two children – all of whom live under the same roof. He said he’s relying on his kids to help out, after having to lay off eight staff members in mid-March: “Because I’m the person who pays for their tuition fees and everything, so [they see] ‘Daddy is in trouble?’ and they come and help me out.”
Larger retailers, too, are having to make major changes to the way they have run their businesses.
Roots has changed its store layouts, taking merchandise off display tables and putting more items on hangers to minimize the amount that customers are touching items. Apple Inc. has announced a global policy of mandatory temperature checks for customers before they enter its stores. Twelve of 29 Apple stores in Canada will open as of Wednesday, in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. Aritzia Inc., which has reopened 10 of its stores, is limiting traffic as well. At its Robson Street store in Vancouver, every other fitting room is closed, and staff clean the rooms after each use.
Businesses have been gradually reopening across the country, with retail establishments in Quebec allowed to open their doors May 4, though for Montreal, that won’t happen until next week.
In Alberta, restaurants, hair salons, retailers and daycares were allowed to reopen last Thursday, but the day before, the province announced those establishments in Calgary and Brooks would have to wait longer. Premier Jason Kenney was criticized for the late notice and said Tuesday a decision will be made by Friday about when those two cities can open up. Mr. Kenney acknowledged that people in Calgary and Brooks – business owners who had hired staff and made plans in anticipation of reopening only to be told they could not – were upset, but said last-minute change was due to late advice from the provincial health officer.
Health officials in British Columbia were upbeat, though cautious, about the openings Tuesday. The changes come as the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) declares the risk of COVID-19 in the province is the lowest it has been since early March. The province’s rate of new cases – just two reported on Tuesday – and the number of people dying due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has flattened out. And for weeks now, B.C. has been able to trace the source of almost every new COVID-19 case.
“At this point, we’re in a very reassuring place. We have a high level of control of transmission in British Columbia,” said Dr. Réka Gustafson, Deputy Provincial Health Officer and vice-president for public health at the Provincial Health Services Authority.
“The risk is about as low as it can get in British Columbia right now.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West
HATE CRIMES: There have been many cases of harassment against East Asian people that have taken place across the country since the pandemic began. They are being targeted as being responsible for the devastation being wrought by COVID-19, which originated in China. Vancouver police have tallied 20 hate incidents directed at people of East Asian descent this year to date, compared with 12 recorded in all of 2019. Hate-fuelled incidents, from racist comments to violent assaults, have been taking place across Canada. Amy Go, president of Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice, says immediate action is needed against this wave of bigotry, such as a public-information campaign denouncing it. While many police departments reached by The Globe and Mail across the country say they do not keep detailed statistics showing a spike in hate crimes over the past two months, many say they are investigating specific cases of East Asian harassment amidst the pandemic.
MANITOBA BLOCKADES: Members of northern Manitoba First Nations who are worried about the spread of COVID-19 say they will maintain blockades set up at the entrance to a hydroelectric construction site despite a court injunction. Scott Powell, Manitoba Hydro’s director of corporate communications, said the injunction proves the Crown corporation’s plan to resume regular work rotations is safe for workers and neighbouring communities. Over 500 employees and contractors have been at the site for eight weeks and Powell said they need to be rotated out.
KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is continuing to champion his government’s multibillion bet on the Keystone XL pipeline even as an official from U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign pledged to kill the project if the former vice-president wins the November election. Such a decision would effectively stop the cross-border project, even as TC Energy Corp. – the Calgary company behind the pipeline – said Tuesday that pipeline construction across the U.S.-Canada border is already done.
LOCAL FARMS: Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has created a surging demand for local produce, there is a large gap in the food-supply chain that is tripping up small farmers. A combination of increasingly tight safety regulations and the sheer enormity of pivoting to new distribution models in the middle of the growing season have made it impossible for many farmers to sell their vast surpluses. Similar to dairy farmers who are dumping milk or pork farmers who are euthanizing pigs, many small B.C. produce farmers have no other choice but to destroy their crops or let them rot.
HOSPITAL HATS: A group of about 200 Chinese-Canadian residents across Metro Vancouver have made it their missions to help Vancouver’s front-line workers. Members track down the colourful fabrics, sew scrub caps and then deliver the finished items to hospitals and long-term care homes. They have handed over more than 3,500 caps and 140 headbands to health care workers in less than a month, says the group’s co-ordinator, Li Li.
HOMES FOR THE HOMELESS: For the first time in nearly a year, Frederick Weller has a space of his own. Mr. Weller recently moved into Sunalta Lodging House, a 30-unit apartment building run by Alpha House in southwest Calgary, after renovations were sped up to get more people out of the shelter system, where the COVID-19 risk remains high, and into housing. The Sunalta Lodging House, where he is now, is transitional housing – a stopgap until Mr. Weller can secure a permanent place to live. Agencies in Calgary that serve the homeless population say the pandemic has underscored the need for more permanent housing.
REOPENING RISKS: University of B.C. economists have developed a new analytical tool that calculates the risks and benefits of reopening different sectors of the B.C. economy. And it has more than a few lessons about which ones need to take more precautions because of potential risks in the current pandemic, says Henry Siu, a professor in the Vancouver School of Economics who was on the team that developed the searchable database.
RESTAURANT REOPENINGS: Edmonton restaurateur Paul Shufelt owns several eateries in the Alberta capital and is also one of the few independent restaurant owners who opted to reopen a restaurant prior to the long weekend. He decided to focus on reopening Woodshed Burgers to test the postpandemic waters. In the new approach to service at the casual burger spot, directional arrows have been placed on the floor, plexiglass has been installed between part of the kitchen and service counter and daily health and safety updates are issued during workers’ preshifts. Any staff that have close interactions with diners wear gloves and masks and all staff are checked for possible symptoms of COVID-19 daily.
LA LOCHE OUTBREAK: Health officials have some good news for a northern Saskatchewan community that’s dealing with numerous cases of COVID-19 – an outbreak at the village’s long-term care facility is over. The Saskatchewan Health Authority announced Saturday that it was ending an outbreak declaration for the facility at the La Loche Health Centre, which had been in effect since April 17.
PANDEMIC ARTIFACTS: Alberta museums are collecting artifacts related to the pandemic, such as photographs, hand-sanitizer bottles and homemade face mask patterns, as they work to record life in the province during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Bruce Graham on what the pandemic means for kick-starting Alberta’s economy: “There will be many lessons coming out of this pandemic, and one is that where you live, where you work and where you need to be to do business will be less relevant. This will put increased stress on those communities that generate a disproportionate amount of their property-tax revenue from their commercial-assessment base, particularly office and retail properties that may see reduced demand after the crisis.”
Adrienne Tanner on pandemic-related racism: “When people are fearful – and who hasn’t been lately – they seek to blame. Right now, the scapegoat is China, where COVID-19 first struck, and by extension anyone who looks Asian.”