Vancouver mayor mulls ‘more extreme version’ of COVID-19 lockdown

Mayor Kennedy Stewart expressed frustration Sunday over reports of people congregating in groups during the pandemic| Photo: Jennifer Gauthier

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart reiterated a plea Sunday (March 22)  to all residents to stay two metres apart when in public after seeing reports on the weekend of people hosting picnics, participating in soccer games and playing “beer pong.”

A clearly frustrated Stewart outlined the seriousness of ignoring the unified demands of politicians and B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, for people to keep their distance from others and cease unnecessary outings.

Beer pong is a drinking game where people attempt to bounce ping pong balls across a table into cups of beer.

 Stewart didn’t say where such activity was occurring in the city.

He said the time for asking people to comply with social distancing “is over,” but stopped short of promising to create and impose any penalties against individuals who disregard the two-metre request.

The mayor, however, hinted that more emergency powers could be in place Monday (March 23) after city council convenes virtually for a second time since the outbreak of the coronavirus in B.C.

Stewart said he will request council implement measures “that would allow us to move to a more extreme version of having people stay at home like you’re seeing in New York, or in San Francisco.”

That said, the mayor pointed out health officials have not recommended such a move yet. 

He also said he recognized any move needs to abide by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and uphold the Constitution.

“This, sometimes, takes a little bit of legal work because there’s really no precedent for us to go and look at,” Stewart said.

“So that’s what we’re doing right now, and we’re also doing this in concert with the provincial and federal government.”

Operators of restaurants and bars, meanwhile, have largely complied with the city’s order to either shut down or continue serving customers through take-out orders or delivery.

City manager Sadhu Johnston said bylaw officers visited more than 600 licensed premises Saturday and issued 13 violations, a sign that restaurants and bars understood the importance of the order.

“I just want to say ‘thank you’ to the many, many businesses that have abided by both our order and the orders of the province,” said Johnston, noting the city’s monitoring of businesses was assisted by 33 complaints from the public.

“It’s good to see that the business community is really stepping up.”

Even so, Johnston said the bylaw changes to be discussed at council March 23 could give the city the power to levy fines of up to $50,000 to businesses that continue to flout the law.

Those would include all personal service businesses such as hair salons, tattoo shops and massage parlours, which Henry ordered closed March 21 across the province.

The updates from Stewart and Johnston came the same afternoon that the park board closed tennis courts, sports fields, skate parks, removed basketball hoops and taped off outdoor exercise equipment areas.

The board also shut down parking lots at Kitsilano Beach, English Bay, Queen Elizabeth Park, Stanley Park and VanDusen Botanical Garden.

Beaches remain open, but large tractors were seen removing logs March 22 at English Bay to discourage people from sitting close to others, which was happening on a large scale during the sunny weather last week.

Park board general manager Malcolm Bromley said the board was taking “an incremental approach” in its decisions to help stop the spread of COVID-19, but had no plans to close parks and beaches.

“A complete closure of the parks is a very dramatic step,” Bromley said.

“Our board has not contemplated that at this point in time. People still need to go out and get fresh air. There are safe ways to go for a walk, even on the Seawall. But please don’t cluster, please don’t get in groups, please practise social distancing.”

Last week, the park board closed playgrounds, community centres, pools, ice rinks and libraries as part of a series of unprecedented moves that suggest Vancouver is closing in on a complete lockdown.

The two-metre rule on the beach applies to strangers, not a family or people in an immediate household, clarified Stewart, whose message to respect the social distancing measures seemed to be directed at younger people.

“You might think that you’ll be fine, that getting sick would be no big deal,” he said.

“But as I’ve said many times before, there are more than 10,000 highly vulnerable neighbours who live in our city. Many, many more are seniors and those with compromised immune systems that are rightfully worried right now.”

Darrell Reid, who has temporarily stepped away from his duties as the city’s fire chief to lead the city’s COVID-19 task force and oversee the Vancouver Emergency Management Agency, stressed the urgency for Vancouverites to comply with orders and pleas from governments and health officials.

“Just yesterday, Italy sadly saw more than 800 people die in 24 hours as a result of this virus,” Reid said.

“We cannot let the same thing happen in Vancouver. Therefore, we must all act to flatten the curve and slow the spread of this virus.”

On March 21, Henry announced 74 more people had contracted the virus. That brings the total to 424 in B.C., with 230 of those in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

Ten people have died, six have recovered, 27 are in hospital, with 12 in intensive care.

Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix are expected to update the numbers the morning of March 23.

Read the original story here.