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Vancouver looks to slow streets and space for patios, pedestrians amid COVID-19

Vancouver is considering plans to repurpose 50 kilometres of roadway in an effort to create more space for restaurant patios and lines outside of businesses, as well as walking and cycling, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vancouver is considering plans to repurpose 50 kilometres of roadway in an effort to create more space for restaurant patios and lines outside of businesses, as well as walking and cycling, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The so-called "slow streets" would have signs and barriers telling people to drive slowly and use the streets for local access only, the city said in a news release Monday.

Its plans also include expediting the permitting process for outdoor patios that allow room to serve people while maintaining physical distancing requirements.

The city said 12 kilometres of slow streets have already been installed and council will consider a motion asking staff to rush the repurposing of road space in more neighbourhoods across the city.

Lon LaClaire, the general manager of city engineering services, said physical distancing will be in place for some time and more space is needed for people to safely go about daily activities, such as exercise or travel to work.

"We also want to help people return to some of the things they really enjoy doing, like eating at a favourite restaurant, picking up items from local businesses or connecting with friends outdoors."

The city will work with businesses and community partners to assess the needs for space while making sure streets and public spaces are safe and accessible, LaClaire said in the city's release.

In Victoria, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 and four more deaths on Monday for a total of 161 fatalities among 2,530 cases in B.C.

Gatherings will be limited to 50 people for now even as some COVID-19 restrictions are being loosened, said Henry, because any new outbreaks could affect vulnerable residents in long-term care homes.

She said bigger gatherings would undo the gains B.C. has made to "flatten the curve" of the epidemic, while creating more work for public health employees doing time-consuming contact tracing.

The public health officer's order establishing a maximum of 50 vehicles at drive-in events also stands, said Henry, adding that increasing that number would bring together more people who would likely not stay inside their vehicles.

Henry said it's also dangerous to reopen long-term care facilities to visitors but health authorities are considering how that could be done when the time is right.

Another wave of the pandemic may strike in the fall as respiratory illnesses such as flu make their seasonal appearance, so keeping the number of COVID-19 cases low through the summer is key, she said.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said he understands and regularly hears about the consequences for families who can't visit their loved ones in care homes.

"For the moment it is not possible to change those policies around visiting," he said.

Dix said emergency-room visits around the province are going up, indicating people are starting to use them as they should.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2020.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press