'This is crazy': Latest health orders not published over a week later

New restaurant rules remain

UPDATE: 5 p.m.

Despite pleas from British Columbia's hospitality industry to reconsider some of the restrictions put in place on bars, restaurants and nightclubs in the province, no such changes are coming any time soon. 

During Thursday's press conference, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said they did not make the decision to close all nightclubs and restrict liquor sales to 10 p.m. lightly. 

“It was unsafe, we had transmission events documented in several places around the province, and it was becoming increasingly challenging for public health to try and identify and get on top of those places who were breaking the rules," Dr. Henry said. 

“I appreciate that this is a very challenging time for people in that industry.”

Thursday morning, BC’s Alliance of Beverage Licensees and the BC Restaurants and Foodservices Association released a statement urging the province to move the liquor sales cutoff to midnight rather than 10 p.m. The industry representatives also criticized the lack of a written order, more than a week after Dr. Henry announced the move, and said the industry was not consulted before the new order was made.

They also encouraged the province to double down on enforcement of the establishments who were breaking the rules, rather than sweeping measures that effectively punish the entire industry. 

Thursday, Dr. Henry said she hoped the written public health order would be published online Friday, and noted that other provinces, including Ontario, Quebec and Alberta have similar restrictions in place. 

The Ministry of Health told Castanet that despite the new order taking effect on Sept. 8, there is currently a "grace period" to give restaurants, pubs and nightclubs a chance to adhere to the order. But the Ministry has refused to provide any details on what this grace period actually means in practice, and when this grace period will expire. 

The Ministry has also not said who is responsible for enforcing these new orders. 

ORIGINAL: 12:25 p.m.

Earlier this month provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered the closure of clubs and the end of liquor sales at bars and restaurants at 10 p.m., in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The move was decried by the hospitality industry, who believe they are being unfairly targeted with health orders while other sectors operate unimpeded. 

But over a week after the order was announced, it still hasn’t been put in writing or published online. As a result, some nightclubs in Kelowna have continued to operate, with the municipal bylaw department unable to enforce an order that doesn’t exist. 

Pubs, bars and restaurants, meanwhile, already facing devastating financial losses have “no idea how to comply with an unpublished order,” according to BC’s Alliance of Beverage Licensees (ABLE BC) and the BC Restaurants and Foodservices Association (BCRFA).

“It’s bad enough that these orders were issued without industry consultation. It’s now been over a week since Dr. Henry issued verbal orders that have had devastating financial consequences for BC’s hospitality industry, and we still don’t know the exact details of how to comply. It’s an impossible situation that is putting the financial viability of our industry at risk,” said Jeff Guignard, Executive Director of ABLE BC.

“BC’s restaurant industry was already in a fragile state, with about 50 per cent of businesses not sure they’ll make it to the end of the year,” said Ian Tostenson, CEO of the BCRFA. “Dr. Henry’s verbal order led to an immediate 30 per cent decline in revenue for our industry—even though the vast majority of businesses are meeting or exceeding all health protocols and have invested thousands of dollars to provide a safe serving environment. This is crazy.”

The industry says it has been lobbying the government on the economic fallout related to the order and is calling on Dr. Henry to come to the table to discuss the “impact of changes before it is too late.”

“With thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of jobs at risk, industry and government need to work together to help operators pivot and survive,” the two groups said in a statement.

Castanet News had been trying to get information on the status of the verbal order from the Ministry of Health prior to the industry groups going public with their concerns on Thursday.

Ministry spokesperson Shannon Greer told Castanet Wednesday the orders went into effect on the day they were announced by Dr. Henry on Sept. 8. In the same statement, Greer said there is a grace period in place to allow businesses to adhere to the new orders. 

“Right now, we need to focus on the things we can do to stop the transmission of COVID-19 throughout the province,” Greer said. “We can do that by closing places where we know the untraceable spread of COVID-19 is happening, and by reducing the probability that alcohol impaired judgement will be a factor in disease spread.”

The Ministry of Health did not answer any of Castanet’s questions on the length of the “grace period” or who is actually responsible for enforcing them — RCMP, bylaw or the BC Liquor Enforcement Branch. In the past, health orders have been published online the day of, or shortly after they are announced by Dr. Henry. The province did not explain the delay in posting the most recent order.

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