FOULDS: Nonsensical pandemic orders erode credibility of B.C. health officials

When packed pubs and restaurants are deemed safe, yet virtually empty movie theatres are considered dangerous, we have a serious problem with the powers-that-be.

While provincial health officials have for the most part erred on the side of caution when enacting orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, some decisions make no sense whatsoever.

And worse — neither Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, nor Health Minister Adrian Dix, nor anyone else involved in said decisions can offer up rational explanations for some of these blatantly asinine health orders.

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Case in point is Interior Health’s about-face in ordering the Kamloops Film Society to stop booking screening times at the Paramount Theatre for household members only, to a maximum of six people, in a theatre with 500 seats.

As of last month, the non-profit film society that is trying like hell to save the grand Paramount from the dust bin of history had been allowed — via permission from Interior Health — to screen movies for up to six members of one household.

If you have ever watched a film in the largest of the two theatres at the Paramount, you are aware of the cavernous space. To have six family members occupy a half-dozen of the 500 seats, enjoy popcorn and pops and watch a movie poses virtually ZERO chance of transmission of COVID-19.

Yet for reasons still not explained to the great unwashed, the Kamloops Film Society was advised by Interior Health this week that permission for such ultra-safe events was being rescinded, apparently by order of health overlords at the provincial level.

Kamloops Film Society executive director Dušan Magdolen theorizes in a letter to the editor that word of the society’s ability to hold the safe screenings spread, with theatres elsewhere in B.C. asking for similar permission. Alas, rather than allow other theatres to offer the safest possible “event” in the province, health officials decided to pick the Paramount to pull the permission.

Meanwhile, in a three-block radius of the Paramount, there are no fewer than a dozen restaurants and pubs that are allowed to welcome far more than the maximum six people who were permitted to venture into the theatre. Hell, these pubs and restaurants are permitted to serve people from all over the city — including people at one table from different households — in spaces that are, in many cases, smaller than the theatres at the nearby Paramount. The onus should not be on eateries and pubs to enforce the household/table rules, but if the order is being flaunted (and it is), why is the government's focus on safer venues?

The logic of the health officials’ decision is lacking. As Magdolen noted — if a family can sit around a table at a restaurant where there are other people at other tables, why can that family not sit alone in a large theatre?

But this health order inconsistency is not new.

Consider the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, where we have the most ridiculous COVID-19 protocol situation known to mankind. The Rio is a grand old movie theatre that is not permitted to operate, per health orders that have closed theatres. But the ownership of the Rio noticed sports bars are allowed to operate. So, realizing the Rio has a liquor licence, management pivoted and declared the Rio to be a sports bar, not a movie theatre — and, presto, health officials granted the Rio permission to operate as a sports bar.

The decision makes no sense. The Rio ownership noted it makes no sense. In fact, the switch was made as a way of illustrating the government’s lack of common sense in its health orders. Yet instead of acknowledging this embarrassing policy mistake, Dix congratulated Rio management for its ingenuity.

Let’s be crystal clear here: Dr. Bonnie Henry, Adrian Dix and all the other experts believe a sports bar (with a game on the screen and patrons drinking alcohol and cheering and expelling particles) is safer than a movie theatre (with a film on the screen, patrons drinking pop and eating popcorn, being stone-cold silent and watching the movie).

In making these decisions, our “experts” have failed us. It is ludicrous, nonsensical decisions like these that lead to the public’s distrust in health officials. It is such monumentally moronic conclusions like these that feed the nutbar conspiracy theorists who believe COVID-19 to be a hoax.

Shortly before more restrictions were added in early December, I attended a Western Canada Theatre play at Pavilion Theatre as part of WCT’s Pandemic Playhouse series. Pandemic protocols were in place and included mask wearing when not at one’s table, about 10 tables spaced far apart (more than six feet), masked servers delivering drinks and performers on a stage set well away from the sparse audience. I have yet to be in a space as COVID-19-safe as the Pavilion that night. The chances of spreading or catching the novel coronavirus were about as good as the chances of the Canucks winning the Stanley Cup this year.

Yet our health officials shut down that “event” — while the pubs and restaurants we still frequent, with far more people in far tighter spaces and much closer together, remain open.

There is zero logic to these decisions and that conclusion has been confirmed time and again when those in power, when asked about these bizarre and senseless decisions, cannot explain them.

Meanwhile, non-profits that had delivered the safest form of entertainment during this pandemic are that much closer to extinction.

Henry, Dix and all the rest owe us an explanation. And, because they cannot possibly rationalize such nonsense, they owe us theatre in the safe settings that already existed before they inexplicably closed the doors.

Twitter: @ChrisJFoulds

© Kamloops This Week



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