VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Despite the province’s top doctor pleading with British Columbians to stay at home and away from crowds, it looks as though the message has been lost on many people in Vancouver Halloween night.
Videos posted to social media show massive crowds gathering along Granville Street, with few people adhering to COVID-19 regulations. According to the Vancouver Police Department, the crowd “grew larger than expected during a pandemic,” and more police needed to be brought in.
— Kareem Gouda (@KareemsGouda) November 1, 2020
Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung says she’s disappointed to see dense groups of people gathering maskless in the city, doing the opposite of what public health orders instruct.
“It’s really concerning,” she says, adding further measures could be taken if orders continue to be ignored.
“What we don’t want to see, but we’re going to head towards, I think, if we keep ignoring these recommendations, is lockdowns or shutdowns,” Kirby-Yung says. “That’s either going to take away the ability for people to go out and enjoy our restaurants and bars in a safe physically-distanced way or we’re potentially going to see outbreaks at those businesses and they’re going to be more hard-hit than they have been so far.”
Not only is there a potential impact on businesses if a lockdown were to happen, but Kirby-Yung also notes it could have negative consequences on people’s mental health.
Others are being put at risk by these large, irresponsible gatherings, she adds.
BREAKING: Enormous crowds gathering on the Granville Strip on Halloween Night. This Snapchat map shows how dense it is right at Nelson and Granville. pic.twitter.com/4twGGc1AX9
— Kareem Gouda (@KareemsGouda) November 1, 2020
“Every time you increase that exposure, you’re really impacting the ones that are closest to you that you love the most. Just because it hasn’t hit you or your family yet, doesn’t mean it won’t.”
She points to the situation in the United Kingdom, where a new month-long lockdown will start next week.
“Look at what’s happening around the world. We see that the U.K. has gone to another major lockdown,” Kirby-Yung says, “They shut down their restaurants, except for takeout, all their bars and pubs have closed, and I don’t want to see Vancouver in that situation. But if not everybody is doing their part, it undoes all the good work everybody else is doing.”
She says she hopes there isn’t an influx of coronavirus infections in the following weeks.
‘Dispersing crowd wasn’t appropriate,’ says VPD
Const. Jason Doucette says extra officers were around the Granville Entertainment District Saturday night, and more resources were brought in from around the city when the crowd grew.
VPD now weighing in on last night's crowd on Granville. Extra officers were deployed to the area, people were peaceful BUT some needed to be removed from the area by police. "Due to a number of factors" physically dispersing the "alcohol-fueled crowd" was not an option. @NEWS1130
— Tarnjit Parmar (@Tarnjitkparmar) November 1, 2020
He explains in an email to NEWS 1130 that the VPD’s response was reasonable, given the circumstances.
“Due to a number of factors on Halloween night, physically attempting to disperse the alcohol-fuelled crowd or issue tickets wasn’t appropriate,” Doucette says. “Although there were a number of occasions where the police were met with hostility from the crowd, our officers maintained a professional and balanced approach.”
He adds there were “a number” of arrests for minor offences, such as causing a disturbance but didn’t offer further details.
Frustrated bartender quits
The night altogether was too much for one former bartender who worked on Smithe and Granville streets.
The bartender, who did not want to provide his name, tells NEWS 1130 he was so frustrated with the situation that he quit.
Once people started entering the bar, the bartender says they were walking around talking to other tables without physically distancing.
“So you get two guys come in, they sit at your bar, and you serve them a couple of drinks. They see a table of girls – of six girls – they immediately go over to that table. So now you have people getting up and moving around, that’s it’s incredibly hard to police,” he says.
“We’re doing everything we can to be safe. There will be another shutdown or something will happen. If you lose your bar for two weeks, that’s pretty significant.”
He says the last several months have been extremely hard to manage groups, and when he voiced his concerns to his employer, they weren’t taken seriously.
“At the end of the day, the amount of money we’re making is just not worth having the risk,” the bartender says.
Doctor’s orders ignored
Earlier in the week, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gave the thumbs-up to trick-or-treating but warned against parties as COVID-19 cases continue to surge.
“This Halloween weekend we need to celebrate in new ways. We need to keep our groups small,” she said Thursday.
Henry issued a new provincial health order as well, limiting gatherings at homes to no more than the people living there plus six others in their “safe bubble.”
“This is because many of the things we do at parties and celebrations, things, like talking and hugging and eating and drinking together indoors, are much, much riskier. Particularly now.”
This is not the first time crowds of young people gathered along the strip during the pandemic.
In August, a video circulated online and prompted criticism from social media users and some Vancouver city councillors.
-With files from Tarnjit Parmar