British Columbia

Live sports and events return to Vancouver with vaccine cards and half-full venues

Saturday saw the return of some of Vancouver’s most familiar arts and sports events, including live rugby and the Vancouver Opera, with attendees required to show proof of vaccination as the city continues to go through a fourth wave of COVID-19.

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver Opera and international rugby 7s all resumed on Saturday

Marquee sports and arts events returned to Vancouver on Saturday Sept. 18, with reduced capacities and spectators requiring to provide proof of vaccination. From top, going clockwise, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, an outdoor set of the Vancouver Opera, and the Canadian men's rugby sevens team. (Janella Hamilton/CBC, Tom Wright/Vancouver Opera, Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Saturday saw the return of some of Vancouver's most familiar arts and sports events, with attendees required to show proof of vaccination as the city continues to go through a fourth wave of COVID-19.

Vancouver Coastal Health saw 83 new cases of the virus on Friday, with more than 1,000 active cases recorded for the region.

But with more than 80 per cent of Vancouverites age 12 and above double-vaccinated, and vaccine cards required to enter ticketed events, it was a day of cautious optimism for many eager patrons.

Some of the marquee events that returned on Saturday were the World Rugby Sevens Series, with more than 13,000 spectators, and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is pictured here practicing before their first performance in more than a year on Saturday, Sept. 18. (Janella Hamilton/CBC)

"In the season behind us, we have been playing, we have been making music, but there was never an audience. And it's very, very different to have that audience respond," said Otto Tausk, music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

"It's great to do digital things, but it will never replace the real life performance. ... You feel if the audience is with you listening and experiencing the great depths of the music that we experience on stage."

The VSO last played a live event in March 2020, and had resorted to a series of digital performances since then.

Noah Reitman, president of the Vancouver Musicians' Association and assistant principal bass player for the orchestra, said the province's music profession had been "decimated" by the 18-month closure of venues.

"I'm hoping to see things creeping back slowly in the province. Things are coming back to normal," he said.

Venue attendance capped at 50%

The VSO is set to play to 1,200 patrons on Saturday and Sunday, half of the Orpheum Theatre's capacity. Under Step 3 of the province's restart plan, ticketed events can take place with 50 per cent capacity.

Patrons and performers, when appropriate, will be masked, and patrons will also be required to show proof of vaccination when they enter arenas.

However, Vancouverites looking to catch some live opera on Saturday didn't have to do any of those things.

The Vancouver Opera started their preparations for the upcoming season in a low-key fashion, with performers putting on three-hour sets at the šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl'a7shn plaza for around a dozen people, free of charge.

The Vancouver Opera put on a free three-hour performance at the šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl’a7shn plaza in downtown Vancouver on Sept. 18, 2021. (Tom Wright/Vancouver Opera)

The Opera is set to return to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in December, but Tom Wright, general director of the Opera, said the small performances on Saturday and Sunday will help them ramp up to the big day.

"The clapping, the applause, the 'ooh's,' the groans, the moans – that is what makes live performance so special," he said.

B.C. Place saw plenty of that atmosphere on Saturday, with 13,000 raucous fans cheering on the Canada men's and women's teams as they kicked off the World Rugby Sevens Series.

More than 13,000 spectators watched the Rugby Sevens action in Vancouver on Saturday, Sept. 18, with some of them masked. All fans entering B.C. Place had to show proof of vaccination. (Antonin Sturlese/CBC)

All of the players in the series, from more than 12 countries, have both shots of the vaccine and operate in a "bubble" environment, according to Jamie Levchuk, managing director of business operations at Rugby Canada.

"Being able to watch high level rugby again and be in this environment is incredible. I'm so stoked to be able to say that I get to play the sport," said Kayla Moleschi, a two-time Olympian who is resting for this series after Tokyo 2020.

"It feels amazing, obviously, being here in the crowd and being able to enjoy a sport that we all love and have a bit of ... just being next to each other."

With files from Janella Hamilton and Joel Ballard