Ritu Khanna, executive director of the South Surrey White Rock Chamber of Commerce, has a plea for residents and visitors to the Semiahmoo Peninsula: act responsibly and follow the current COVID-19 protocols and orders on in-home gatherings from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and her staff.
“It’s not just about the health and safety of the individual,” she told Peace Arch News on Tuesday. “It’s about the survival of our businesses.”
If the number of cases in B.C. continues to rise in the second wave of the pandemic, there’s a potential of even stricter measures being put in place, she warned.
“If there is another lock-down there are going to be businesses that don’t survive,” she said. “It’s not fair to ask business to pay the price of people not following the rules.”
Khanna’s comments were echoed by Alex Nixon, executive director of the White Rock BIA, who noted pandemic statistics coming out of Europe and the U.S. that are “terrifying.”
“My hope is that everyone is doing their part to flatten the curve, wearing masks in places where they can’t be physically distanced, following the guidelines, staying home if they’re not well,” he said.
“I know how really hard it is not to see friends and loved ones, but the only way we’re going to get over this is to do it together, with each of us doing their part.”
Henry last week issued a new order limiting gatherings in private homes in most of B.C. to no more than the immediate household, plus six others.
But those living in Fraser Health, B.C.’s most populous health authority, have been asked to limit even further.
“In Fraser Health, due to the rapidly escalating case count, we’re going one step further and asking our residents not to hold parties, with people outside their household, inside their home at this time,” said Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, Fraser Health’s interim chief medical health officer and vice-president, population health.
Henry cited a “notable increase in new cases and transmission of COVID-19 as a direct result of social gatherings in private homes,” and reminded people that, even with the order that social gatherings be no more than 50 people, the “vast majority of homes” can’t safely accommodate large numbers while maintaining physical distancing.
Khanna said that Henry’s emphasis on private gatherings should be heeded.
“People in homes should take notice, curb their interactions and take responsibility,” she said. “I don’t think people realize – unless they’re a small business owner, or depend for their livelihood on a pay-cheque from one – the consequences of their actions.”
Local businesses are not the culprits in the current situation, Khanna added.
“Businesses have spent so much money investing in ways to make sure they’re safe for customers and clients and their own staff, from buying protective equipment and barriers, to limiting the numbers of people who can be there, which significantly reduces their earnings,” Khanna said.
“Businesses are taking this very seriously, because it affects their livelihood. People don’t realize the number of people behind each business, from the owners, who may have spent their life savings on creating the business and offering the service they’ve dreamed of providing, to the people they hire, who are going to lose their jobs if it closes. There are so many ripple effects throughout the entire community.”
Nixon agreed, adding the response of local businesses to the challenge of the pandemic so far is “one of the things we should take heart from,” noting that WorkSafe reports have shown that White Rock businesses are more than complying with safety guidelines, exceeding standards that were strict to start with.
“I knew before how much businesses here cared for their community, but watching them step up has been inspiring – I’m so very proud of (them),” he said.
“It’s heartening that safety is top of mind for them.”
Khanna said the chamber has also stepped up its activities to support businesses throughout the pandemic – including additional services, newsletters and weekly Zoom meetings to keep members connected.
“This past year, we’ve had some 50 events of different kinds, which is unheard of for the chamber. It’s usually about five or six per year.”
“We want to do everything we can to help,” she said.
“We can’t ask businesses to take the brunt of this (pandemic).”