The annual Surrey Vaisakhi Parade has been cancelled for 2020.
The organizers of the event, which was scheduled for April 25, have made the “difficult decision” to cancel the 2020 event “until further notice or a significant change in the transmission of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.”
The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday.
Moninder Singh, Surrey Vaisakhi Parade spokesperson, said it was a “tough decision.”
“As these last couple of days came forward and we saw other mass cancellations, and we saw the transmission,” Singh said, “We have half a million people in a few blocks and we have a lot of elderly population, like 25, 30 per cent is probably over that age of 60, 65 and we won’t have the ability to protect people. We don’t like being in a situation that jeopardizes people’s health and safety that way.”
Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar, the organizers, have been “closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 in our region,” according to a release Thursday (March 12).
Singh said that leading up to the decision, Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar was meeting with Fraser Health Authority, among other agencies, as well as trying to review documents from the BC Centre for Disease Control to understand mass gatherings.
“I think some people will be disappointed by it, but at the same time, it is the right decision in our minds,” he said. “Before making it, we knew we might get some feedback that wasn’t positive. But since we made the decision, we’ve had hundreds of messages on social media, phone calls, emails, all thanking us for doing this and taking the right steps. It’s been a very positive reaction.”
The Surrey Vaisakhi Parade, which is the largest outside of India, attracts more than 500,000 people annually. The parade is a celebration of the birth of the Sikh faith.
Singh said one of the issues organizers looked at was “the sheer amount” of people that come from the region and out of town.
“That kind of also plays into it,” Singh said. “If you’ve ever been to the parade, people are like elbow-to-elbow and right up against each other. We looked at 500 people and we’re like, well what if there’s a 0.1-per-cent transmission rate, and that’s 500 people.
“That’s like 10 times the cases we have in B.C. right now. That’s just not safe at the end of the day.”
Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry said Tuesday that she’s received a lot of questions lately about small- and large-scale events. She said there’s a risk-assessment process in place to determine if events are viable.
“It’s a guidance that helps us look at who’s coming, is it indoors, is it outdoors, what are the things that increase the risk, but also what are the things that organizers of mass gatherings can do to help reduce the risk of participants,” she said. “That can be anything from encouraging and supporting people not to come if they’re sick; things like refunds or deferring payment, encouraging people and giving them the ability to clean their hands regularly, to allow space if things are outdoors.
“For example, it’s much easier and much less risk than indoors.”
She also mentioned that not having “communal meals” would be helpful.
“There’s a whole host of things we can do to reduce risk and still allow these important gatherings to happen.”
The cancellation comes just two days after Health Minister Adrian Dix told the Now-Leader that it was too early to determine whether the Surrey Vaisakhi Parade should be cancelled or not.
“It’s a little distance away,” Dix said Tuesday. “But the same applies here that we have a risk-assessment model that can be applied to every event, and we’re hoping event organizers in circumstances like that engage with health authorities to make decisions in the best interest of all the people that might go and the whole community,” said Dix.
Asked if there is a possibility the parade could go ahead if the outbreak eases, Singh said he’s “not hopeful” it will happen in 2020.
“Based on how the outbreak is right now, and it just being declared a pandemic yesterday, I’m not hopeful that we will be able to come back to the parade this year,” he said. “We’re probably pretty much looking at 2021 now. We can always have hope. Hope is a great thing to hold on to, and if we can put the event on for the community, we are happy to do so.
“We won’t jeopardize public health or safety in trying to do so. At this point, I think it’s unlikely, but we do have to leave it out that there’s a chance something really extraordinary happens and things get better. But really, at the moment, we’re looking forward now.”
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