A Surrey city councillor says elected officials carelessly put public health in jeopardy during a party at a Surrey restaurant late last month.
Surrey Coun. Mandeep Nagra and Surrey Centre Liberal MP Randeep Sarai attended the Chetna Association’s welcome to new Indian Consul-General Manish Manish at the Mahek Restaurant and Lounge on Oct. 26.
“They chose to put themselves at risk and, more importantly, the public at risk,” Surrey Coun. Jack Hundial told theBreaker.news.
Photographs by Aaj Media Group and DesiBuzz Canada, also published by theBreaker.news and CTV News Vancouver, show attendees without masks, standing shoulder to shoulder and crowding around a table. All contravening public health orders and rules aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus.
Surrey is B.C.’s COVID-19 epicentre and the infection rate sparked a new region-wide order temporarily banning house guests until Nov. 23.
Nagra said he was at the event for 15 minutes and made sure he followed all guidelines, which he said he does “every day and all the time.”
Photographs show otherwise.
In one, a maskless Nagra stood next to Sarai in a group photo with eight other men. In another, he was seated with seven others around two small tables.
Masks are recommended indoors when two metres physical distancing is difficult. Each table must be separated by two metres, with a limit of six per table. Patrons are not allowed to mix and mingle.
“Just before the picture, I think one or two more people jumped in and they’re seen sitting at the same table, but they just came in for the picture,” Nagra said in an interview. “There were only six people at the table, I only took my mask off just to get the picture taken, I had my mask on throughout the meeting there.”
Nagra said he was unaware of the photograph of him standing beside Sarai. He suggested it was somebody else. theBreaker.news emailed him a copy, but he did not reply.
It is not the first time Nagra’s behaviour has been under scrutiny during the pandemic. Nagra returned from a trip to India and attended a news conference with Mayor Doug McCallum on March 16 at Surrey city hall, four days after the public health order recommending travellers quarantine for 14 days after returning to Canada.
“I came back on March 6, 14-day quarantine instructions came on March 12. How am I supposed to know what’s coming next week?” Nagra said.
Sarai, meanwhile, was apologetic. He said he attended the party of fewer than 25 people for 25 minutes.
“It was uncomfortable and it wasn’t something that should be encouraged. In fact, I think it should be discouraged,” Sarai told CTV News Vancouver reporter David Molko.
“[Organizers] should have done better and it would have been better had they not done the event at all.”
Aaj Media Group CEO Suki Pangalia said people sat at their own tables for most of the evening. “I think what happened was at the end, when the photo opportunity came up, people really lost themselves,” he said.
The Consulate-General of India did not respond for comment. The only country suffering more coronavirus infections and deaths than India is the United States.
On Nov. 9, Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman issued a public call to modify or cancel Diwali celebrations. The South Asian festival of lights runs Nov. 12-16. She told Molko the behaviour in the photographs was “absolutely unacceptable.”
She suggested the leaders in the photographs hold a news conference, publicly apologize and remind everyone to follow public health instructions.
“If our leaders are not going to adhere to public safety protocols, why would others?” Huberman said.
Huberman has a simple message to those ignoring public health orders, especially in the South Asian community: “Our economy is going to be compromised. You will lose your business. Someone close to you will die. Is that what you want?”
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