British Columbia

Restaurant, tourism industries fret as coronavirus case numbers spike

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has expressed concern that people in their 20s and 30s are increasingly testing positive for the virus. Many of the cases have been linked to hotels, restaurants and bars.

'We are having some adjustment problems, no question about it, but we’re going to correct that'

Kelowna is still being pushed as a tourism destination for British Columbians, despite recent COVID-19 exposure events involving tourists. (Andrew Glass/CBC)

After days of spiking coronavirus case numbers in B.C., hospitality and tourism businesses are worrying about what damage those spikes could do to the future of their industries.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has expressed concern that people in their 20s and 30s are increasingly testing positive for the virus. While they may not suffer as severe symptoms as older people, they can unknowingly spread it.

Many of the cases have been linked to hotels, restaurants and bars. Nancy Small, the CEO of Tourism Richmond, said the industry is doing all it can to promote safety but it can't control the behaviour of all patrons.

"These instances are very unfortunate," Small said, calling them isolated.

"We're going to do whatever we can as an industry to make sure these things don't happen but we can only control people so much."

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has raised concerns about an increasing number of young people testing positive for COVID-19. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Small said what's needed is more reinforcement of public health messaging from officials and a shared sense of responsibility between businesses and customers to keep to health officials' guidance. 

The tourism industry has already been the hardest hit in B.C. by the pandemic as it is, she said, and if things get worse and restrictions return it would be a disaster.

"We've been living in a state of fear since [the pandemic] started," she said. "To go back to what was Phase 2 would obviously be truly detrimental."

Ian Tostenson, CEO of the British Columbia Restaurant and Food Services Association, said it's concerning that some of the businesses in his sector are the scene of some coronavirus hot spots.

He said those are outliers and any noncompliance with health guidelines are usually due to misinterpretations of rules, not malice, on the part of restaurateurs.

"We are having some adjustment problems, no question about it, but we're going to correct that," Tostenson said.

"Believe me, the messages are going to get stronger from us. We're going to lay the hammer down."

On Tuesday, the Tourism Industry Association of B.C. said tourism and hospitality businesses should get $680 million of a $1.5-billion COVID-19 recovery package pledged to the province by the federal government.

Tostenson said if restrictions from earlier phases return, he believes many restaurants won't be able to survive. That's why businesses and their customers need to get it right.

"We don't want to go down that road," he said. "I'm really worried our industry doesn't have the staying power."

With files from Tina Lovgreen

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