Ottawa concert with rapid COVID-19 screening to be postponed if city moves to red zone
OTTAWA -- An outdoor concert at Lansdowne Park later this month will feature rapid COVID-19 screening and could serve as a dry run for larger concerts later this year.
But it's already facing a significant roadblock as the city's top doctor warns Ottawa could soon move into the red zone, which would cut outdoor gathering limits by 75 per cent.
Organizers are calling the “Long Road Back” on March 27 the first event of its kind in Canada, and say it could pave the way to safely reopening the live music industry.
“As we look ahead to the summer of 2021 and beyond, establishing best practices for live music events now is critical,” said Mark Monahan, the executive director of Ottawa Bluesfest. “In order to produce summer and fall events, rapid COVID-19 antigen screening is needed to demonstrate live concerts can happen safely.”
The concert will take place at the Casino Lac-Leamy Plaza, the outdoor area near the Aberdeen Pavilion, on March 27. It will be limited to 100 attendees, all of whom will be required to undergo rapid COVID-19 antigen screening.
Tickets sold out within 3
Shoppers Drug Mart stores will offer the screening during a 48-hour period leading up to the event, from 3:30 p.m. on March 25 to 3:30 p.m. on March 27.
The Commotions, an R&B and soul group from Ottawa, will perform.
The Ontario Festival Industry Task Force, a coalition of festivals and other organizations that Monahan chairs, is organizing the event with help from other groups including the National Arts Centre.
“The learnings from this event will be invaluable as our industry prepares to safely welcome audiences back to our performance venues,” said Heather Gibson, the NAC’s executive producer of popular music and variety.
Organizers say they are producing the event under the guidance of Rapid Test & Trace Canada, a coalition of epidemiologists and medical experts. The event is being run with the cooperation of the city, province and local health authorities.
Tickets and more information about the concert can be found here.
Bluesfest, the city’s largest music festival, is still scheduled for July 8 to 18 at LeBreton Flats. It was cancelled last year due to the pandemic.
City stressing 'now not the time' but working to ensure safety
Ottawa's medical officer of health and the chair of the board of health both say now is not the time for an event of this nature, but the "Orange-Restrict" level does permit outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people as long as distancing can be maintained, so they have been working with organizers to ensure the event is held safely.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference on Tuesday, medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she made it clear that it cannot be a typical outdoor concert.
"We worked with the organizers to make it very clear that when an outdoor gathering of up to 100 people is to occur, it needs to occur with distance between people," she said. "Your typical concert environment where people might be close together and mingling, even singing, that's not acceptable under provincial regulations."
She said she recommended an approach where attendees sit at tables of up to four people, ideally from their household, similar to a patio, and that masks should be worn at all times.
"We also communicated that rapid testing on its own is not sufficient to provide safety or protection against COVID-19 transmission. It really is the distance between people," Etches added. "If there's a risk of crowding, wearing masks, even outdoors, adds protection against COVID transmission."
However, should the province decided to move Ottawa to the "Red-Control" zone before the event, as Dr. Etches expects, a 100-person outdoor event would not be permitted. Organized public events are limited to 25 people outdoors with physical distancing under the tighter red zone regulations.
Board of Health Chair Coun. Keith Egli also stressed that a concert of this nature is not ideal at this time.
"I can understand why people want to do it but it's clearly not ideal. The vaccination program is a cause for optimism but we're not at the celebration phase right now," he said.
Mayor Jim Watson also said that while he knows the live music and festival industry in Ottawa has been severely impacted by the pandemic, he understands that the event would not go ahead if Ottawa moves to the red zone.
Monahan told CTV News Ottawa the event would be postponed and refunds would be offered if Ottawa moves to the red zone, but the show would not be cancelled.
The province typically announces on Fridays which public health units are moving to new restriction levels. The changes come into effect the Monday following the announcement.