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'Riskier prospect than ever before': province says large events like PNE not happening this summer

Last Updated Apr 18, 2020 at 4:17 pm PDT

The PNE and Playland are seen here from the NEWS 1130 Air Patrol in the summer of 2019. (Source: Riley Phillips/NEWS 1130)

The PNE is one example of a summer event the province's top doctor says should not be proceeding

A spokesperson for the PNE says it is looking for a way to host the annual fair amid COVID-19 restrictions

The fair has run for over a hundred years, and draws hundreds of thousands over the last two weeks of summer

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — With some hope that COVID-19 curve is starting to flatten in B.C., the provincial health officer says large events planned for this summer still shouldn’t be happening.

Even if some health measures are scaled back next month, Dr. Bonnie Henry is throwing cold water on events that rely on hot weather and draw in large crowds.

“Realistically, we will not be having those big events where people gather together this summer. That is a much riskier prospect than ever before,” Henry says.

She notes the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) is one annual summertime event that shouldn’t be going forward.

“Those types of large mass gatherings where we have a lot of people together, this is not the time for that, and it’s not going to be through this summer. It will be again in our future, and I think we have to keep hold of that,” she says.

Henry adds people should instead think of how they can celebrate in a way that makes sure we can still practise physical distancing.

Laura Ballance, a spokesperson for the PNE, says like many events across the country struggling to cope during the pandemic, the exhibition is trying to work out what it might look down the road.

“Maybe not as the traditional PNE fair that we all know and love, but maybe in a different form,” she says. “We certainly respect Dr. Bonnie Henry and acknowledge she is the expert in the field.”

The 110-year-old event starts near the end of August and runs into September drawing in hundreds of thousands over a two-week period.

“The PNE has been the place where generations of British Columbians have come together. We survived the Great Depression, we’ve been the place where British Columbians have gathered after two World Wars,” Ballance says.

She explains any scenario the PNE comes up with for this summer will be brought to health officials for consideration.

However, she is hopeful the event will happen in some form.

“We will do our part to be part of the solution. When the time is right, the PNE is the place where British Columbians should gather and come back and celebrate,” Ballance says.

And although she admits Henry’s comments surprised her, the PNE will keep exploring possibilities and monitoring the situation.

“So stay tuned, the events may be smaller, and protocols may be different, but we have a few bright ideas up our sleeve for when the time is right,” reads a statement from the PNE.

Playland has also already delayed its opening until July, according to its website.