COVID-19 restrictions: Changes to capacity limits coming for many B.C. venues

Capacity limits for many B.C. event venues will soon be lifted when the province moves to the next phase of its vaccine-card program, the province's top doctor announced Tuesday.

Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the changes to restrictions in B.C.'s live weekly COVID-19 briefing.

As of Oct. 25, indoor sporting venues, concerts, theatres, dance and symphony events will be able to operate at full capacity, as long as no regional health orders are in place. 

“This announcement gives us the runway to make up for it for the rest of our season,” said Angela Elster, CEO of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. In the past month, the orchestra has been performing in front of a 50 per cent capacity crowd at the Orpheum Theatre, equivalent to 1,100 people.

“Our season goes September to June. We’ve launched a full live season and hope to invite everyone in at 100 per cent capacity.”

Easing capacity limits is welcome news to the Arts Club Theatre Company, which operates three performing arts theatres in Vancouver.

“The holiday season is really important to theatre companies, as is the summer,” said Executive Director Peter Cathie White. “To move ahead with the five productions we have between November and summer 2022 is really great news.”

Indoor organized events like weddings and funeral receptions will also be able to have more guests. Rules limiting dancing at weddings and nightclubs are still in place, however.

The announcement comes at an ideal time for the Vancouver Canucks. The team’s home opener at Rogers Arena takes place Oct. 26, one day after capacity restrictions will be eased. Canucks management expects to see a sold-out crowd for the first time in more than 600 days, and it’s not just good news for fans of the team.

“It’s certainly giving people an opportunity to get back to work. We’re anticipating hiring over one thousand people (in food and beverage services),” said Michael Doyle, president of business operations for Canucks Sports and Entertainment.

All those events are subject to proof-of-vaccination requirements. While guests currently only need to show proof of one shot at those venues, starting Oct. 24, proof of full vaccination will be required.

"We had always intended to lift the capacity restrictions in these seated events … once we got to the point where it was only fully vaccinated people who were in those settings," Henry said. "It doesn't reduce the risk to zero. It means that we are mitigating the risk."

At some establishments, considerations are being made for people who might not feel comfortable returning to full capacity crowds, despite the requirement for all attendees to be immunized.

“Monday to Thursday matinees before 6 p.m., we’re still going to have physical distancing in effect for those customers who are less comfortable,” explained Bill Walker, CEO of Landmark Cinemas, which operates 12 movie theatres across the province.

The VSO intends on taking similar steps. “We’ll gauge the audience, and maybe incrementally move to larger audiences,” said Elster. “Perhaps the orchestra level is at full capacity, and the balcony level is social distancing.”

Henry also announced Tuesday the restriction that required patrons of restaurants and bars to remain seated will also be lifted.

The top doctor said officials got feedback from those business owners who said those rules were a challenge for them to enforce.

"I will remind people of course that the other public health restrictions remain in place, including the indoor mask requirement when you're moving about," Henry said, adding that capacity limits won't be lifted everywhere.

"These changes are applicable where proof-of-vaccine status is being checked and also where there are no regional health orders in place."

Regional health orders are in place in parts of Northern Health, Interior Health and Fraser Health east.

"We're hoping to leverage the benefits of the vaccine card and this is an important first step of that and we'll be monitoring carefully and looking at whether we can take away additional restrictions depending on how things evolve over the next few weeks," she said.

"We are not seeing transmission in those settings where the vaccine card is used."