British Columbia

B.C.'s reopening plans are coming. Here is what 5 sectors want to know

Industries are looking for guidance as Premier John Horgan reveals the province's strategy Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m. PT.

Industries are looking for guidance as Premier John Horgan reveals the province's strategy Wednesday

Michael Hong, co-owner of CooCoo Coffee, laid off all of his staff when COVID-19 hit. He's hoping B.C.'s reopening strategy will pave the way to be able to hire them back. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

It's been nearly two months since society started to shutter as the pandemic and its devastating effects swept British Columbia. 

Wednesday marks the 100th day since the province's first confirmed COVID-19 case. It's also the day Premier John Horgan is set to unveil B.C.'s reopening strategy, including details of how and when we can start to return to at least a semblance of normal.

Here's a sampling of what players in five different sectors want to know — and how much guidance they're looking for from our leaders:

Restaurants

On March 20, B.C.'s top doctor issued a public health order banning restaurants from dine-in service, sending them scrambling to adapt to take-out or delivery models only.

Provence Marinaside, a waterfront restaurant in Yaletown, had to lay off 100 employees — 90 per cent of its staff — as it tried to come up with creative ways to stay in business. It's adjusted to the new reality offering take-out and delivery but is eagerly awaiting the go-ahead to throw back open its doors.

J.F. Quaglia, owner of Provence Marinaside, has already started re-configuring his restaurant to allow for up to 50 per cent capacity once dining in is given the go ahead. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Owner Jean-Francis Quaglia is currently reconfiguring the dining room in anticipation of reopening at around 50 per cent capacity, but there are still logistical details that need to be confirmed. 

"What will be the exact distance between tables? We are setting up with a [two metre] radius, but what about [back-to-back] booths, how will that work? Will we have to seat people at every other booth?" 

The industry has already been told to come up with innovative ways to operate safely. Quaglia embraces the challenge and points out they've been self-imposing strict safety measures all along.

"Our chefs are wearing masks in the kitchen, even though it's technically not a regulation. We have sanitizing stations everywhere, we're physically distancing ... so we've already been doing this for eight weeks, and so far so good."

While some welcome broad direction, others are pushing for more detailed criteria — especially around the question of re-opening patios.

The patio at Coo Coo Coffee draws about 80 per cent of its business, but it's been sitting empty ever since B.C. ordered restaurants and coffee shops to take-out or delivery models only. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"I just want to know what the guideline is in terms of seating people outside again," said Michael Hong, co-owner of CooCoo Coffee on Davie St. 

The patio seating at his cafe draws about 80 per cent of business, especially critical in the coming summer months. 

"With the nice warm weather approaching, it's all about the patio," Hong said. "People enjoy sitting outside, and I'd also just like to have people around the coffee shop besides myself."

He and his wife had to lay off all three of their staff, but are hopeful the loosening of restrictions will pave the way for more customers and more revenue that will eventually allow them to hire back their employees.

Retail

Most malls and department stores shut their doors mid-March, but some smaller retail outlets have remained open while keeping crowds to fewer than 50 people and ensuring physical distancing. 

Murchie’s Tea and Coffee has closed six of its nine stores due to COVID-19, including this location in Downtown Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Murchie's Tea and Coffee currently has closed all but three of its nine B.C. locations, and even the ones that are still open have seen a 70 per cent decrease in customers.

"It's very difficult to run a business when you don't know what's going on and you don't know the timing of what's going on," said managing director Grant Kubler, who's looking for two things from Wednesday's roll-out: certainty and dates.

"If we need to have sneeze guards up at all our stores and specific mechanisms for physical distancing, for example, nothing will open right away but we can work toward a gradual reopening." 

One of his biggest struggles has been dealing with a backlog of inventory that was purchased months ago that he has no hope of selling in its entirety this year.

Education

There has been widespread uncertainty for parents, students and teachers as questions loom about how and when schools will begin to reintroduce in-class learning. 

Many schools are anticipating how that will look, with possible changes like staggered classes, rotating start times, smaller groups, enhanced cleaning, or sanitization stations.

Surrey schools superintendent Jordan Tinney wonders whether side-by-side lockers will be a thing of the past as the province works towards reopening in-class instruction. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Surrey schools superintendent Jordan Tinney is anticipating broader guidance on health measures in particular, like instructions to limit movement within a school.

"Adherence to physical distancing, which very young children will find challenging.... Are we past things like the day when everyone had a locker, which are side-by-side?"

Tinney added he's not looking for the premier to present specifics on every detail, but rather larger brush-strokes of direction they can tailor to each district's needs and abilities.

Youth sports

Many of those same questions surrounding safety of kids overflow into youth sports leagues as well. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has already suggested little leagues can resume this summer.

But Coquitlam Little League Baseball president Sandon Fraser wonders how feasible that will be.

Little leagues wonder how kids can play sports like baseball safely, given sanitation concerns around shared equipment. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"How do we know how many kids can be on the field at one time? How many of their parents can be in attendance to watch them?"

He understands the game is going to look a lot different and questions how that will look with not being able to share equipment.

"Is there going to be any opportunity for funding to either support some of the additional equipment we're going to have to purchase? Or even the cleaning and sanitation supplies we're going to need to make sure our kids stay safe," he said.

Tourism

From cruise ships to mass tour groups, B.C.'s tourism industry is bracing for a major hit. Provincial parks remain closed, but some campgrounds are hopeful they'll still be able to reopen in time to catch peak season.

Bradsdadsland Campground on Hornby Island is heeding the recommendation of the Island Health Authority to temporarily close down, and has cancelled all reservations until mid-June.

Campgrounds are optimistic they'll be able to reopen by July in order to catch peak camping season this summer. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

"The islands would then rely on a 10-week season; that last week of June, all of July, all of August, and the first week of September.... If we can't make a dollar then, we're not going to make a dollar at all," said manager Martin Cree.

He's hopeful a restart date won't be far off, pointing out camping is naturally conducive to physical distancing.

"That part is not an issue; but are they going to restrict it to self-contained RVs or are they going to permit campers in tents?"

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.

About the Author

Provincial Affairs Reporter covering the B.C. Legislature. Anything political: tanya.fletcher@cbc.ca

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