The B.C. government is lifting audience limits for indoor organized events and gatherings, including concerts and sports, starting Monday in areas where vaccination levels are high and outbreaks are low, including Vancouver Island.
As of Sunday, everyone born in 2009 or earlier will be required to present a B.C. Vaccine Card showing they are fully vaccinated to access many non‑essential events, services and businesses.
The next day, an order restricting venues to 50 per cent capacity for inside events will be revised to allow full capacity and the B.C. Vaccine Card will be required for entry.
For Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, that means about 7,000 people can attend events, while 2,500 can attend at The Q Centre in Colwood.
Reaction from the theatre community was overwhelmingly positive. Franz Lehrbass, executive director of the Royal and McPherson Theatres Society, called it the news the society has been waiting for. “We’ve spent the last several months preparing to reopen the theatres to audiences in November,” Lehrbass said. “Today’s announcement allows us to gear up to open to full-capacity events at the beginning of November.”
Lehrbass said while it will have to do some hiring, the society has been able to retain its core staff during the pandemic and is in a strong position to welcome audiences back.
Bruce Halliday, general manager of Nanaimo’s Port Theatre, said the venue has been preparing for a full reopening, but it will take some time before there’s a deluge of new events. “It’s not like turning a switch,” he said.
“Do I expect an influx of new shows in the next month or two? Probably not. But it will mean more confidence among touring groups and promoters to take the risk now and they will start booking tours.”
Halliday is hopeful that by mid-2022, the theatre will be operating at about half its pre-pandemic pace, when the theatre hosted about 320 live shows a year.
Lack of free cross-border travel will hamper the pace of recovery, however, he said.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said it was always the intention to lift capacity limits once vaccination rates were high enough and measures to prove full vaccination were in place.
“It doesn’t reduce the risk to zero — it means that we are mitigating the risk,” Henry said. “We know that the risk of people who are fully vaccinated transmitting the virus and getting sick is much less.”
Capacity limits will also be lifted for wedding and funeral receptions and organized parties.
They will remain in effect, however, where regional orders are in place, including Fraser East and parts of the Northern and Interior Health regions, Henry said.
Masks will continue to be required for all indoor gatherings and events, but Henry said she will be lifting a requirement to remain seated at tables in restaurants and pubs, since patrons must be fully vaccinated.
“We’re hoping to leverage the benefits of the vaccine card and this is an important first step of that,” she said. “We’ll be monitoring it carefully and looking at whether we can take away additional restrictions, depending on how things evolve over the next few weeks.”
Henry said ensuring people don’t move around in restaurants has been difficult for staff, who are “already bearing the brunt of some people who don’t like the concept of the vaccine card.”
She said transmission is not being seen in settings where the B.C. Vaccine Card is used and people stay seated — with the exception of communities where there are outbreaks and low vaccination rates.
The province is not at the point of opening all activities, Henry said. Dancing, for example, will continue to be restricted, which Henry acknowledged will be difficult for bars and nightclubs.
“I hope to be able to take off more restrictions as we get through the next few months, but it’s going to be a challenge for all of us.”