British Columbia

Restaurants close as B.C. bans gatherings over 50 people

Restaurants and bars in British Columbia are closing down as provincial health officials announced a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people on Monday.

St. Patrick's Day celebrations cancelled in downtown Vancouver to limit spread of COVID-19

Empty tables during lunch hour in the food court at the Richmond Public Market in Richmond, British Columbia on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Restaurants and bars in British Columbia are closing down as provincial health officials announced a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people on Monday. 

Stricter measures apply to restaurants and bars in Vancouver's downtown core for Tuesday, St. Patrick's Day, who have been ordered close by public order for one day. 

"I had been informed from the VPD and other members of the community that there was plans for large St. Patrick's Day celebrations in bars where we might see 10 to 15,000 people in the downtown core in very close proximity," said Mayor Kennedy Stewart, prompting the public order.

Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry says avoiding large groups of people is key to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

"I know it's going to be hard on businesses," she said. "It's going to be hard on people not being able to congregate and not be able to have those special moments together."

Henry expects that most bars and entertainment venues won't be able to meet the criteria of less than 50 people. 

However, she says restaurants and cafes may be able to stay open by limiting the number of patrons or by moving to mostly takeaway services.

Restaurants closing as precautionary measure

Some B.C. establishments have already announced they are closing up for the time being.

Vancouver-based restaurant chain Cactus Club Cafe is suspending dine-in services at all 31 Canadian locations Tuesday and the Donnelly Group, which owns approximately 20 pubs and cocktail venues in the city, shut all its locations after closing hours Monday.

David Aisenstat, CEO of The Keg Steakhouse and Bar restaurant chain, said in a statement the company will close all of its North American locations by Tuesday, with the exception of its Toronto venues, which were closed Monday.

More than 10,000 Keg employees at around 100 restaurants in Canada and the United States will be out of work and the company said it plans to help minimize their financial burden and hopes to reopen in two weeks.

Grant Gard, owner of Part and Parcel restaurant in Victoria, isn't taking any chances and shut down the entire business on Monday. 

"The only thing you can do is just to not be around other people," he said. "We felt this responsibility to our staff [and] our community."

Gard says he and his wife made the difficult decision after seeing social media reports from countries like France where the spread of COVID-19 is more accelerated.

"I think what made this very real was when France shut down on Friday."

The owners of Victoria-restaurant Part and Parcel have decided to shut down for a week to do their part in slowing the spread of COVID-19. (Part and Parcel/Facebook)

Other jurisdictions closing bars, restaurants 

Bars, clubs, concert halls and most other recreational sites in Quebec have been ordered to close, under new measures announced Sunday to limit the spread of COVID-19. Ontario's top medical official recommended similar measures on Monday.

Late Sunday, the governor of hard-hit Washington state announced a statewide shutdown of restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. Similar measures have been announced in New York City and Los Angeles.

Last week, B.C. health officials announced that all events bringing together more than 250 people would be cancelled.

Henry says reducing the limit to 50 people is crucial to slow the rate of infection in the coming weeks.

"I would urge people not to go and congregate, not to have those major events, particularly if you are somebody who is vulnerable to severe illness from this disease and we know that that's our seniors and elders in our communities."

At a press conference Monday, British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the COVID-19 situation is "escalating around us, and here in British Columbia as well." (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Some restaurants are turning to delivery services like Foodora, Doordash, Skip the Dishes, and UberEats to keep business going.

Fable Diner, Glowbal Group and The Holy Crab in Vancouver are all offering deals on gift card purchases that can be used at a later time.

Gard plans to shut down the restaurant for at least a week and then re-evaluate on a day-to-day basis. 

He says his staff of around 15 employees were very understanding when he told them the restaurant was closing.

"They're stoked which is crazy because people have bills to pay, but I think they're happy with the responsibility that we've chosen to go with not having people in contact with each other."

Gard knows the business will take a hit from shutting down, but says it's worth it to help slow the virus.

"If the worst thing to come out of all of this is that we lose our business then maybe that's not the worst thing," he said. "You can always make more money." 

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

With files from Emily Vance

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