British Columbia

'Like a parade on the seawall': Vancouverites say social distancing not taken seriously outside

Social distancing is crucial in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but that message doesn't seem to be getting across to Vancouver-area residents flocking to city parks and outdoor spaces. 

People gathering at beaches, seawall despite orders from health officials to avoid crowds

Beach gatherings like this one on March 18 are now banned in Vancouver due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Supplied/Jag Singh)

Social distancing is crucial in slowing the spread of COVID-19, but that message doesn't seem to be getting across to Vancouver-area residents flocking to city parks and outdoor spaces. 

As of Saturday, 424 people have now been diagnosed with coronavirus in B.C. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says now is the time to alter the course of the pandemic by staying home. Going outside is fine, Henry said, as long as you stay two metres away from other people. 

That's not what Heather Johnston is seeing from her front window.

"It's like a parade on the seawall," said Johnston, who lives near Granville Island. 

"People are bringing grandma and grandpa down with the baby in the stroller so we can all enjoy the bloody cherry blossoms. What's that going to look like in two weeks? It's ridiculous.

"It's really nice weather, but people are not getting it. It's so idiotic and frustrating."

A week of sunny weather has also enticed crowds to the city's green spaces as the pandemic intensifies. The Vancouver Park Board has put up signs on beaches reminding people to spread out and suggests visiting parks in off-peak hours.

Other popular outdoor attractions are closing completely.

Starting March 22, Quarry Rock and Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver will be closed. 

"Visitors are not following provincial health officers orders to keep two metres' distance, despite signs and staff enforcing physical distancing at trail entrances," the District of North Vancouver said in a tweet.

On Friday, B.C. Parks closed off access roads to Mount Seymour and Cypress provincial parks, and restricted access to some lower-level trails in those areas. Playgrounds and campgrounds are closed until at least April 30.

Sunbathers at Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

'It's everyone's obligation to comply'

Some Canadians don't see the harm in continuing to meet up with friends and family, according to a new poll.

According to a national poll of 1,000 Canadians from Research Co., thirty per cent of Canadians say it's "reasonable" to attend a gathering of 10 people or fewer. More than 20 per cent think it's reasonable to visit elderly relatives at this time. 

Meanwhile, more than 70 per cent of Canadians think the worst is yet to come in this pandemic. 

Dr. Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix say self-isolation measures are orders, and are not optional.  

Crowds along the seawall at Sunset Beach in downtown Vancouver on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"That is your obligation to your loved ones, to your community. It's also an order," Dix said on Saturday.

"It's everyone's obligation to comply."

Henry said the province can enforce the measures if required, including by issuing fines.

In a letter to Dr. Henry, nearly 200 doctors at some Metro Vancouver hospitals are pleading for her to lock down entire communities to contain COVID-19. 

The letter specifically calls for the closure of all businesses except for essential services, and for more enforcement of social distancing rules at crowded beaches and parks.

Vancouver resident Kate Bouchard isn't sure why people aren't abiding by the rules. This week, she said she saw "huge groups" of people gathered at Sunset Beach.

A greater police presence to remind people to distance themselves in public places might be the next step, she said.

"It's nice to be able to get out and enjoy the weather," Bouchard said.

"For mental health and anxiety … to get out and  stand in the sun and be on the beaches is important."

Johnston believes it's time for the city to enact stricter measures and close the seawall entirely if people can't abide by the rules. 

"They need a wake up call right away," she said. "It's literally going to be a life-or-death situation."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca. 

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