British Columbia

Provincial health officer won't give in to bar industry's call to reinstate liquor sales after 10 p.m.

Cases of virus transmission after 10 p.m. forced the province to take action, health official says.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says bars were risky for coronavirus transmission in later hours

Patrons at LanaLou's bar in Vancouver on July 10. The restaurant and bar industry is asking the province to loosen up a new public order that stops liquor sales at 10 p.m., but the provincial health officer isn't budging. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

B.C.'s provincial health officer has rejected renewed calls from the bar industry to allow liquor sales until midnight.

Last week, Dr. Bonnie Henry issued a public health order that said liquor sales at restaurants and bars must end at 10 p.m., and such businesses should close at 11 p.m. unless they are serving food.

The industry immediately appealed for more relaxed rules, and that request is now being repeated, despite Henry's warnings about the risk of COVID-19 transmission during the later hours.

Jeff Guignard, executive director of the B.C. Alliance of Beverage Licensees, says his group's research shows the last couple of hours of business is when establishments go from losing money to turning a profit.

Bars in downtown Vancouver make half their revenue after 10 p.m., he said, while in other areas about a quarter or a third of revenue is tallied after 10 p.m. Even in rural communities, 10 per cent of revenue comes in the last couple of hours of business, he added.

Jeff Guignard is executive director of the B.C. Alliance of Beverage Licensees. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

He said 50 per cent of the industry might not make it to the end of the year and it has been surviving on government rent and wage subsidies. The situation will become more dire if the public health order isn't changed.

"It means bankruptcy. It means you're going to close and you're going to have to lay off your employees," said Guignard.

Henry told reporters on Thursday that she had received a letter from the alliance on Wednesday, but she wasn't ready to budge on the order.

"I appreciate that this is a very challenging time for people in that industry, I also know that this virus is transmitted by people," she said.

"These orders were done with thought and the realization that these were places right now that cannot safely operate," said Henry.

She said environmental health officers who have been inspecting bars around the province say the businesses faces challenges to meet safety requirements. Henry also said staff at the establishments and WorkSafeBC have expressed concerns.

Preventing COVID-19 spread in drinking establishments is a challenge, says Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"We had transmission events documented in several places around the province and it was becoming increasingly challenging for public health to try and identify and getting on top of those places that were breaking the rules," she said.

Delay in publishing order

Guignard said bar owners are "absolutely furious" that the public health order — which was issued verbally more than a week ago — has not been published in writing. That means details aren't clear for a highly regulated industry with various types of liquor licenses. 

Businesses don't know, for instance, whether off-sales of alcohol are also banned after 10 p.m.

Henry said her office has answered questions that have popped up since the verbal order was issued and she hopes to have the details in writing by Friday after a careful legal vetting to ensure the order isn't overly broad.


With files from Tina Lovgreen

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