British Columbia

'We're in uncharted territories': Some events cancelled, postponed as coronavirus spreads

West Vancouver's annual Nowruz festival has been cancelled over the threat of coronavirus while a fundraising gala for B.C. Children's Hospital Foundation is indefinitely postponed.

West Vancouver's annual Nowruz festival has been cancelled while Rugby Sevens, Canucks taking precautions

A young woman leaps across the bonfires at Ambleside Park at the Nowruz festival in West Vancouver in 2019. (CBC)

Fear over the spread of coronavirus in British Columbia has led to the cancellation of at least one major event, while organizers of other public gatherings are taking steps to keep people safe and healthy.

A popular Persian festival in West Vancouver, which celebrates the new year is not going forward.

The Nowruz festival has for 29 years had thousands of people gather at Ambleside Park to leap over the flames of small fires, eat food and listen and dance to performers. But the 30th edition will not take place until, hopefully, next year.

Davood Ghavami, an organizer of the festival with the Iranian-Canadian Congress of Canada, says despite months of planning, going forward with it isn't worth it, since Iran has become one of the regions outside China hit hardest with COVID-19 infections.

"The safety and security of the public is the top priority for the Iranian-Canadian Congress," he said about the agonizing decision to cancel the event.

Davood Ghavami, the president of the Iranian Canadian Congress of Canada, says it was a tough decision to cancel the annual celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year festival at West Vancouver's Ambleside Park, due to coronavirus fears. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

B.C. currently has 21 cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus which originated in Central China in December. Officials have not been able to track the origins of one of the cases, meaning the virus could be circulating in the community.

On Friday, the province ramped up its response to the outbreak by outlining a wide-ranging provincial pandemic co-ordination plan to contain its spread.

The seriousness of the outbreak has organizers of events where many people will be close together rethinking whether or not to go ahead or what precautions to take to help people avoid the virus. 

A major fundraising gala for the B.C. Children's Hospital Foundation, which was set to take place on Saturday at the Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver has been postponed indefinitely due to coronavirus.

 "We're in uncharted territories. Right now, we're trying to regroup and figure out what those next steps look like," said Surina Sproul a spokesperson for the foundation.

'Ultimately we prioritize, the health, safety and peace of mind of our guests,' says Surina Sproul, with the B.C. Children's Hospital Foundation about postponing a fundraising gala set to take place on Saturday March 7, 2020. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Sproul said the decision to postpone came after feedback from volunteers and guests of the gala who were worried. Up to 600 people were to attend the gala, which hopes to raise $5 million to support the hospital's orthopedic program.

"I think the heightened media conversations that were happening just were raising questions about their comfort in attending," she said.

Rugby Sevens

The HSBC Canada Sevens, a popular rugby tournament, scheduled at B.C. Place in Vancouver for March 7 and 8, will proceed as scheduled.

Organizers say they are closely watching the situation related to COVID-19. Health officials still describe the risk to the region as low.

B.C. Place says it has put in additional hand-sanitizing stations, done enhanced cleaning and trained staff about infection prevention specific to coronavirus.

Signs have been put in all restrooms at the venue to remind visitors about the importance of proper handwashing and hygiene.

Canucks hockey

The Vancouver Canucks NHL team also says that because the risk from coronavirus is considered low in Canada games set for Friday and Sunday at Rogers Arena will go ahead but with some extra precautions.

"The health and safety of our fans, players and staff are our highest priorities, and we will implement all necessary safety measures as required," the team said in a statement.

Additional hand-sanitizing stations have also been added at the rink. Officials say there are around 100 of the stations in total. The arena seats close to 19,000 people.

More cleaning staff will also be working to wipe surfaces in food areas, washrooms, elevators and at entry gates.

World Curling Championships

Starting on March 14, Prince George will host teams and thousands of fans from around the world for the World Women's Curling Championships.

The World Curling Federation, which organizes the yearly tournament, says there are no travel restrictions currently in place to limit participation in the event or to have fans attend.

It says though that it is watching how that might change and is making sure the event will be safe for athletes and officials.

Katherine Henderson with Curling Canada says it is working with the federation to address coronavirus concerns.

"Anytime you bring groups of people together we are always vigilant about making sure that we practise really good public health initiatives such as handwashing and reminding people to somehow take care of their health," she said.

B.C. Northern Health has also been working with organizers to discuss how local hospitals and practitioners might deal with anyone who becomes ill during the event.

Sun Run

Although still six weeks away, organizers say the Vancouver Sun Run, the largest road race in Canada by participation, is moving forward as planned.

The race has had up to 54,000 runners from around the world. It is set for Sunday, April 19, but organizers say if provincial health officials mandate the cancellation of mass gatherings, it is prepared to call off the race.

Organizers say if that happens, people registered for the race will be able to still get their race shirt at a pick-up location.

Registrants can also transfer to the 2021 edition of the race by paying a $15 processing fee.

Currently, all terms and conditions remain in effect for the race for people registered, including a no refund policy.

Doctor's advice

CBC News asked B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, about her concerns over having thousands of people gathering at events like the Women's World Curling Championships.

She said, as of right now, gatherings in the province are still "very safe," but attendees should know how to take extra precautions and not to attend if they are sick.

She's also asking organizers to implement extra handwashing measures and to consider refunding ticket holders who decide not to attend.

"Making sure that there's some provision to ensure that people are not penalized if they stay away," she said.

With files from Jon Hernandez and Nicole Oud

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