Production halted on Vancouver set over potential COVID-19 exposure

U.S. series Riverdale is the first Canadian-based production to suspend operations, while the March 15 Juno Awards ceremony has been cancelled.

Riverdale has become the first Canadian-based production to halt its operations as a result of global efforts to contain COVID-19 pandemic.

Production has been suspended on the CW series shot in Vancouver, B.C., after someone who works on the series came in contact with an individual who had tested positive for the coronavirus disease that first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China. “We are working closely with the appropriate authorities and health agencies in Vancouver to identify and contact all individuals who may have come into direct contact with our team member,” said a spokesperson from Warner Bros. Television, in a statement.

A spokesperson from IATSE declined to comment on whether the individual is a member of Local 891. According to a previous statement from IATSE, the union is “monitoring the [coronavirus] situation in order to respond quickly and effectively should the need arise.”

Vancouver is a hot spot for production. The city has seen an increase in foreign service-based production in recent years, with 24 new U.S.-produced television series setting up in 2018/19, according to a study from FilmLA. Production spend in B.C. rose by 31.5% in 2017/18 to $3.04 billion, with TV production accounting for more than $2.1 billion, according to the CMPA’s annual Profile report.

But other sectors of the Canadian film and television industry are also feeling the effects of COVID-19 with event cancellations and postponements.

The annual Juno Awards, broadcast by CBC and held at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, has been canceled in light of “global uncertainty” due to the coronavirus. The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences said in a statement it would “continue to explore options to coordinate an alternative way to honour this year’s JUNO Award winners.” The ceremony was scheduled for Sunday (March 15).

The Canadian Academy has postponed its annual Family Fan Day event in Toronto, which runs during Canadian Screen Week. “Because of the presence of young children and the ‘meet and greet’ format, Family Fan Day has been determined to be a higher risk than other Screen Week events,” read a statement from the Academy, adding that the majority of Canadian Screen Week events are still at a “low risk.”

The Academy says it is in “close touch with municipal, provincial and federal authorities with regards to the possible effect that COVID-19 may have on Canadian Screen Week events.”

The Quebec Film and Television Council benefit gala, which was set for today (March 12) has also been postponed “on the basis of recommendations issued by the Public Health Agency.”

So far most Canadian film festivals and events have opted to stay on schedule. That includes upcoming Toronto festivals Hot Docs and Canadian Film Fest.

A spokesperson from the Canadian Film Fest, which runs from March 24 to 28, says the festival will take “additional measures” to safeguard guests, including making hand sanitizer available. “Our number one priority is always the safety and experience of our patrons, guests and staff,” read the statement. “We’re closely following official advice and guidance from the government and local authorities on COVID-19 developments.”

There are 103 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada as of March 11, with the majority living in Ontario (42) and B.C. (39), according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The federal government yesterday announced a $1-billion package to help Canadians cope with the outbreak, including waiving the one-week waiting period for employment insurance to help workers and businesses affected by the pandemic and income supports for those ineligible for EI sickness benefits.