The arrival of the Winter Olympics is throwing Vancouver off its routine - and no one seems to mind. Everything from surgery to court cases are being put on hold, schools are getting an extended break and roads will be closed while the area is jam-packed with Olympic events this February.
"It's going to be 24 hours a day, around the clock. Just be outside and you'll be having a great time," said Amber Sessions of Tourism Vancouver. Security and organising officials, though, are calling the changes "business as unusual". Children in Whistler and Squamish will be taking an early spring holiday, with schools closing from February 19 to March 1. The British Columbia Institute of Technology are closing for the entire Games - February 12-28 - allowing for almost 3,000 parking spaces to be used as part of the Olympic Bus Network's park-and-ride. Kwantlen Polytechnic University, not far from the Richmond Olympic Oval, also extended their break for students.
The facility's parking lots and classrooms are being used for volunteer support and other services. Even more unrecognisable in a place once called "No Fun City", will be the constant parties. The "fun zones" include live broadcast sites with giant screens in Vancouver's downtown and Yaletown districts. Not far from there, Robson Square will be a hub of activity around the outdoor ice rink. The city's popular Granville Island market will be taken over with a celebration of Francophone culture. The Four Host First Nations will welcome other indigenous communities at their pavilion. Other sponsored party venues include the Atlantic Canada House and the House of Switzerland among others.
"During Games time the downtown core will be jam-packed with live sites, pavilions, lots of different companies and restaurants and spas and bars are all doing their own activities," Sessions said. Just a train ride away, there will be parties in Richmond, near the Olympic oval, and in Surrey where the city is planning a US$3million (Dh11m), 13-day celebration with music and live broadcasts. In the middle of all those events are the province's law courts, where officials have been planning for the Olympic slowdown for two years. Jury trials have been delayed between February 6 and March 1.
The provincial courts will be processing day-to-day criminal matters, but because many police officers across the province will be deployed for Olympic security, they will not be available to testify at any criminal trials province-wide. Helping in the security effort will be about 6,000 police officers from Canada's famous mounties and other policing agencies across the country, 4,500 Canadian Forces personnel, and 5,000 private security officers. Marine security in Vancouver's False Creek will be restricting access to boats near the athletes' village.
Anyone flying into Vancouver's Burrard Inlet via float plane or helicopter will also be subjected to added passenger and luggage screening, and new restrictions are being placed on carry-on baggage. Transportation will be the biggest hurdle for locals and visitors alike. The Olympic transportation plan comes with massive closures around Olympic venues, pedestrian-only areas through many parts of downtown Vancouver and expanded transit. Checkpoints will be set up north of Squamish on the Sea to Sky Highway stopping unnecessary vehicle traffic from getting through to Whistler.
Restricted mobility are also part of the reason fewer residents are choosing to have elective surgery. * With agencies