Edmonton New Years Eve event planners frustrated with public health rules

Make way for a new New Year’s tradition: cancellations.

Despite attempts to track public health measures, some organizers say increasing cases of COVID-19 in Alberta and new restrictions have blocked their events to welcome 2022.

Adding to the frustration are measures that make some gatherings impractical while others will allow hundreds of revelers to come together.

“There was no consistency,” said Rob Browatzke, co-owner of the Evolution Wonderlounge in downtown Edmonton. “The entertainment and hospitality industries have been the scapegoat throughout the duration of the pandemic.”

With news last week that bars and restaurants must limit patrons to their own tables and that dancing, darts and billiards are banned, the owners of Evolution have decided to close until January 12.

Provincial health ordinances say bars must stop serving alcohol at 11 p.m. and close at 12:30 a.m.

It is not possible to have a New Years countdown party with these limits, Browatzke said. Evolution has canceled a New Years Eve party with drag performers and DJs.

But Thursday night, more formal celebrations in Edmonton were underway.

The West Edmonton Mall’s World Waterpark is hosting a New Years Eve beach ball, complete with a live DJ, buffet, and traveling mascots.

Spokeswoman Lily Lien said the water park will be operating at half capacity and there will be no dancing. Mascots will keep their distance from guests, and people can only consume food and drink while seated, among other measures to keep symptomatic people away. She said the event will follow all public health rules.

Other venues that have listed indoor New Years Eve events include trampoline parks and bars with bands scheduled to perform.

“I certainly bear a bit of bitterness towards governments that seem to be implementing these rules without consistency or without a back-up plan in place to offer support,” Browatzke said.

Kelly Bourdages, left, is the singer and guitarist for country band Trick Ryder. They were to perform a New Years Eve show with fan club members hoping to dance. They were asked to cancel the show when public health restrictions changed to prevent dancing at events to help stop the spread of the Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. (Submitted by Kelly Bourdages)

He would like the province to offer another round of grants to help small businesses affected by public health restrictions.

Justin Braatinga, press secretary to Employment, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer, said the government was monitoring the situation and “would provide further support if deemed necessary.”

Country dance party becomes a cowboy’s lament

Kelly Bourdages, singer and guitarist for country band Trick Ryder, is also troubled by the changing rules.

The group was planning a private dance party with Doug Bishop and the Hurtin ‘Horsemen at the Calder Community League for 200 guests.

Bourdages said he checked with Alberta Health Services (AHS) – twice – to make sure the event could go as planned. But the rules changed on December 24. When CBC reached out to AHS to assess how the event fits within public health limits, inspectors called Bourdages and said the groups must cancel.

Bourdages said he was tired of the mixed messages from the provincial government and inconsistent standards for different industries.

“If they would say, ‘No, we don’t want you to dance. You can still host your event, but we don’t want you dancing, “we know that won’t be followed,” Bourdages said. “People, when you put alcohol in it, they don’t follow the rules at the best of times.”

He wondered to what extent other sites will be able to apply the restrictions.

Alberta Health spokeswoman Lisa Glover said the rules are based on what the government knows about the transmissibility of the Omicron variant.

“These decisions were not taken lightly and are largely aimed at reducing contact in large contexts, such as major events, high capacity sites and reducing certain discretionary activities where there is a high risk of transmission.”

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