British Columbia

'We will not be having those big events': B.C.'s health officer says no to PNE, Pride parade

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Saturday that large gatherings, such as the PNE and Vancouver’s Pride parade, should not take place this summer as there will not be enough herd immunity to COVID-19 to protect people who attend.

Organizers still hoping to put on alternative, online events

People blast each other with water during the 2019 Pride parade. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

B.C.'s provincial health officer is saying no to large summer events that are often the highlight of the season, such as Pacific National Exhibition fair and Vancouver's Pride parade.

Dr. Bonnie Henry was asked during her daily briefing on Saturday if those events, which take place in August, can proceed as the number of active and severe cases of COVID-19 in the province flattens.

"Realistically we will not be having those big events where people gather together this summer," she said. "We do not have enough herd immunity or community immunity to protect everybody and allow that type of event to happen."

New modelling revealed on Friday showed that B.C. could ease some COVID-19 restrictions next month if active cases and hospitalizations continue to fall.

B.C. has so far succeeded in reducing the number of cases and avoided overwhelming the health-care system.

Henry said if that trend continues, restrictions limiting social contact could be lifted as early as mid-May.

Dr. Bonnie Henry was asked on Saturday whether large Vancouver events like the PNE and Pride parade could take place in the summer. She said no. (CBC)

On Saturday though, she was emphatic that major events like the PNE, Pride — and even weddings and funerals —should not take place this summer.

"Those types of gatherings where we have large amounts of people together ... this is not the time for that," she said. 

She encouraged organizers to come up with creative solutions for their events.

'Chance to do something'

Laura Ballance, who speaks for the PNE, said that is what the organization is doing. Ballance said she wasn't fazed by Henry's comments and said the PNE respects her leadership and direction.

The PNE is B.C.'s largest and oldest event that charges admission. This year will be the 110th edition. It was scheduled to run from August 17 to Labour Day.

In a release the PNE said it has weathered a depression, world wars and recessions, and it will find a way through this challenge as well. Ballance said any version of this year's PNE would respect health advice.

"It will likely not be a traditional fair as British Columbians have come to know it, but we're hopeful and I'm certainly hopeful that there will be a chance to do something," Ballance said.

Ballance said there would be implications for not being able to proceed in some fashion. She said the PNE is the largest youth employer in the province and generates $200 million in economic spinoffs.

The Fair at the PNE was scheduled to run from Aug. 17 to Labour Day in 2020. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

'We are not cancelling Pride'

Organizers of Vancouver's Pride parade, which draws hundreds of thousands of people to Vancouver's West End at the start of August, said they respect Henry's guidance but will not call off the event.

"We are not cancelling Pride," said Andrea Arnot, executive director of the Vancouver Pride Society. "We are going to re-imagine it for this year."

Arnot said organizers are working on a virtual and interactive version of the parade and other events associated with the event.

The Vancouver Pride Society has held the parade for 42 years. It celebrates inclusiveness and the struggle of LGBTQ people across the province and Canada.

Arnot said the event is needed this year as much as ever. 

"This is obviously a time that induces a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for folks and having a Pride celebration can be an opportunity to really bring people together, make them feel like they are not alone," she said.

"The spirit of Pride is still there even if we can't be together."

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