British Columbia

Vancouver's Playland delays opening weekend to avoid attracting out-of-town visitors

Vancouver's annual amusement park has postponed its opening for the season over concerns the park would attract out-of-town visitors to the city while travel restrictions are still in effect.

Amusement park defers opening until after May long weekend

When Playland at the PNE opens this year, it will be with limited capacity and fewer rides and attractions. People will need to make reservations and masks will be required in lineups and on rides. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver's annual amusement park has postponed its opening weekend until late May over concerns the park would attract out-of-town visitors to the city had it opened earlier, while travel restrictions are still in effect.

Playland at the Pacific National Exhibition announced the postponement Tuesday on Twitter.

"Playland was set to open Saturday with a strong safety plan supported by [Vancouver Coastal Health]. We were confident in our ability to provide a safe outdoor experience for local families," the post read.

"During discussions today [Tuesday] with the [public health office], concerns were raised related to Playland drawing travel outside of regional health authorities. Due to this, we were asked to remain closed until after the circuit breaker. We look forward to welcoming guests after the May long weekend."

A worker sanitizes a protective screen at a cotton candy concession stand before the opening of Playland last year. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

News the amusement park planned to welcome a limited number of visitors this weekend frustrated members of the public who noted the timing:

The park will be opening its gates for light-hearted entertainment as British Columbians enter another month under restrictions barring them from basic aspects of normal daily life.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 remain at a critically high level in B.C., even as daily case counts begin to drop.

Non-essential travel is also restricted until after the May long weekend between three regional zones: the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the northern and Interior regions.

"We do not want people travelling — travelling to Playland, travelling to any other place for recreation or vacation right now," said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. 

"That I've made very, very clear."

Frustration not surprising, expert says

A spokesperson for the PNE did not say whether Playland would be requiring visitors to provide an address when booking tickets. The exhibition's website offered assurances the park will only be running under public health restrictions.

Michael Brauer, a professor in the school of population and public health at the University of British Columbia, said the park should be relatively safe if the rules are followed to a T.

"I think it's absolutely right that people may initially respond and think, 'Why is this going on?' because they think of Playland as being a crowded environment. If it is sort of a crowded environment, as it typically would be, that would be concerning," said Brauer, speaking in an interview Tuesday before the postponement was announced.

"But if it is opened up with policies for reduced capacity, [with] different requirements and having people wearing masks, given that it is outdoors, it should be safe to do."

Customers buy mini-donuts at the drive-thru mini donut event at the PNE in Vancouver, B.C. on Friday, May 22, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Last year, Playland partially opened July 10. The PNE also hosted a number of drive-thru events throughout the season.

Overall capacity at Playland will be limited when it opens this year. There will be fewer rides and attractions open, according to the exhibition. Visitors will need to make reservations, purchase tickets online and visit only with their "core bubble."

They will be required to wear masks in lineups, as well as while on rides.

With files from Alex Migdal

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