by Nancy La, Staff Writer

In response to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, the BC government introduced new restrictions one after another in an effort to suppress the virus’ spread. This myriad of rules, along with its exceptions, creates confusion for people trying to follow them and even those who enforce them. 

During her April 15 briefing, Dr. Bonnie Henry spoke about the likelihood of community transmission, saying that “the more people you see, the higher the likelihood would be.” Yet Dr. Henry undercut her own statement later saying, “Even if we can see people outside our household, we shouldn’t. And even if we do [meet up], it needs to be the same small group of people.” This back-and-forth between the strictness of the rules and the exceptions to the rules creates confusion around the current restrictions. The contradictory manner in which the rules are presented and put into action makes the restrictions less effective. It seems to suggest that following the guidelines is an option that people don’t have to take, and that there are ways to work around those restrictions. 

An example of this can be seen in the dining restrictions put into place on April 23. Indoor dining is closed to discourage people from different households meeting up, and yet, outdoor dining on patios is allowed. If people are being asked to only travel for essential reasons, then it makes no sense that restaurants are open for dine-in at all, especially with those enclosed “patio” areas that are no better than eating inside. Additionally, there are no rules against people from different households sitting outside together. The two rules contradict one another in their purpose, and according to BC government sources, restaurants and dining spaces were amongst the highest in transmission numbers. 

The introduction of the new dining restrictions also causes headaches and confusion for restaurant owners and employees. 

“My initial reaction was that letting us know the day [ . . . ] we will be closing just doesn’t work,” Cameron Forsyth, the co-owner of Main Street Brewing, said in an interview with CBC News. 

The sudden restriction, which Haroon Khan, a trustee of Vancouver’s Al Jamia Masjid mosque called a “circuit breaker,” came into effect overnight on April 23. This left the food industry and other gathering places, including places of worship, scrambling to shift their services. 

Yet even the rules on patio dining themselves were not communicated to restaurant owners clearly and efficiently.

“If they want us to adhere to health orders, then they need to get them out and then enforce them,” Graham Hafey, owner of V2V Black Hops Brewing, said in an interview with CTV News. 

New guidelines on patio dining were introduced by the government recently to ensure social distancing and air flow in outdoor dining places. But in his comments to CTV News, president of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association Ian Tostenson said the food industry did not receive enough time and the instructions from the government are too “technical” for restaurants to implement; it is not just the restaurant owners and the food service industry being confused by the new rules. Even inspectors themselves are unclear on the specificity of the regulations.

“We’re having inspectors that are being very inconsistent because they don’t understand the regulations as well either,” said Tostenson. 

With the pandemic wreaking havoc on the economy, especially for the food and service industry, it is understandable to have restaurants open at a limited capacity. That being said, imposing confusing regulations on businesses will not aid in recovering the economy and might even put workers at risk. When nobody understands how the regulations work, then these regulations will not be able to protect people like they were meant to do. 

It is not just the food and service industry and restaurant patrons being affected by confusing guidelines. Travel restrictions also have their own grey area when it comes to what one can and cannot do for both travelers and for officers who enforce the regulations.

The confusion began when BC Premier John Horgan announced that there will be “random audits, not unlike roadside checks or CounterAttack during the Christmas season,” to limit recreational travel within the province. 

Four days later, the minister of public safety and solicitor general Mike Farnworth states police will set up road checks at highways that connect the three health zones, but not within the zones themselves. 

At the same time, Farnworth encourages people to “go hiking, go camping” locally. But the question of what counts as “local” hangs in the air unanswered. 

The new travel restrictions also bring up many serious concerns from both civil rights groups over the impact the restrictions might have on racialized communities and police groups. Both groups are pushing against road checks due to potential COVID-19 exposure and its impact on the already tenuous relationship between law enforcement and marginalised communities. 

The BC government is responding to the rise in COVID-19 cases, but the problem lies in the inactive role it plays in prevention and stopping the spread at the source. The regulations discussed above are simply temporary bandages, and they are bandages that don’t even work properly since their application causes so much confusion for the people they are supposed to help. 

While fully closing down is the surest way to bend down the curve, it is not the most economic solution. But from the experience of lockdown, we have learned that strict and clearly defined rules simply work in suppressing the number of cases. As BC releases its foot on the pedal in the fight against the coronavirus with the arrival of the vaccine, it cannot let up on the creation of clearly defined restrictions, and supporting people through these difficult times since this is a matter of life and death for all of us. Our futures hang on the line when it comes to battling this pandemic, and now is not a time for a government that fumbles around and creates unclear guidance for its population to follow.