British Columbia

B.C. health officials lukewarm on plan for WHL season starting in October

Health officials in B.C. can't say whether the province will be ready to permit the type of large gatherings suggested by Western Hockey League commissioner Ron Robison.

The Western Hockey League's commissioner says season start will require 50% capacity in stands

The CN Centre, home of the Prince George Cougars, can hold 6,000 people. According to the commissioner of the Western Hockey League, at least half the seats will have to be filled to make a season possible — something currently prohibited under a public health order banning gatherings larger than 50 people. (Prince George Cougars)

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry seemed to temper expectations for the return of live spectator sports in the fall, making the case on Thursday that there's a good reason for limits on the size of gatherings.

The comments come in response to Western Hockey League commissioner Ron Robison's statement to media that the league will require 50 per cent attendance to make a plan to start the regular season in October viable.

Five of the league's 22 teams are in B.C., with the rest spread across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Washington and Oregon.

In B.C., an order issued March 16 limits all public gatherings to 50 people, in May the order was updated to include a maximum of 50 vehicles at drive-in events.

"I can't say right now if having fans in the seats is something that will be possible in the fall," Henry said of the WHL plan, adding that she had yet to review the details.

Henry said she's part of a World Health Organization group that's developing guidance on the issue of large sporting events.

Dix said he recognizes the challenge the pandemic and the associated rules pose for people and communities — both inside the world of sports and beyond.

He said everyone is still asked to make sacrifices to reduce the toll of the pandemic. He said the impact on communities with sports leagues is significant, and also for people who aren't able to visit family members living in care.

Health Minister Adrian Dix speaks at a COVID-19 briefing in May, as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry looks on. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

"The rules that we're talking about, which have to be applied fairly and to everybody, are there for the safety of everybody, and that's why we're continuing," said Dix.

'No vaccine and no cure'

Rules on large gatherings are expected to be lifted as part of Phase 4 of B.C.'s restart plan, when at least one of the following is in place: widespread vaccination, "community immunity," or broad successful treatments.

"There's certainly no clear idea of when such limits on gatherings would be lifted, as Dr. Henry has said on a number of occasions," Dix said.

The province may enter Phase 3 of the plan next week, pending a COVID-19 data modelling update from Henry and Dix.

That phase would permit non-essential travel throughout the province, the resumption of film and television production, and the reopening of spas, movie theatres, overnight camping in parks, hotels, and resorts.

Dix said there are still good reasons to limit the size of gatherings until there's a significant development in the fight against COVID-19.

"We're in a world pandemic where there's no vaccine and no cure," he said.

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