Update: Ottawa bars and restaurants allowed to resume indoor dining this weekend; gyms and cinemas can reopen

Pint pouring
Editor's Note

This story was updated at 4:30 p.m. to include more reaction from local business representatives.

The leader of a coalition of Ottawa entrepreneurs praised the province’s decision Tuesday to ease restrictions in COVID-19 hot spots, saying the move to reopen fitness facilities and allow indoor service at bars and restaurants will provide a much-needed shot in the arm to struggling businesses. 

“It’s not a perfect scenario, but it’s a start,” Scott Ruffo, the co-owner of the Brass Monkey on Greenbank Road and the head of lobby group OpenSafe Ottawa, said. “At least some (businesses) will have some staff moving and get to have a few people in and out.”

Premier Doug Ford announced the changes hours after provincial health authorities reported a single-day record in new cases and in contrast with Quebec's recent extension of “red-zone” measures.

Ontario rolled out a new colour-coded system Tuesday that will determine when and to what extent coronavirus restrictions are placed on parts of the province.

Areas with the lowest case counts, positivity rates and community transmission levels will fall into a green category, with the most permissive rules. The system then moves upward through yellow, orange and red categories, with increasingly strict measures, topped off by a grey “lockdown” level where maximum measures would be implemented.

The framework goes into effect this weekend, with Ottawa being placed in the orange category. The softer rules mean gyms and cinemas can reopen and indoor dining will resume – with capacity limits – following closures under “modified Stage 2” measures imposed on Oct. 10. Under the new rules, bars and restaurants in Ottawa will have to close at 10 p.m., and no more than 50 people will be allowed inside. 

Ruffo, who led a rally that drew about 50 people to City Hall late last month, said government officials appeared to heed the message from business owners that their operations were hanging by a thread as revenues plummeted after indoor dining and drinking was banned.  

“I think they had to do something,” he said of provincial authorities, while lauding Ottawa Public Health officials for trying to balance health and economic concerns. “At least they're working with everybody and they’re listening.

“If the public puts their heart into it, I think we’ll see a lot more support and (case) numbers will come down.”

Ontario reported an unprecedented 1,050 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and 14 new deaths due to the virus.

About 80 per cent of the new cases were in the hot spots of Toronto and the surrounding regions of Peel, Halton, York and Durham.

Ottawa reported 28 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, down from triple-digit daily increases over the weekend.

New mask rules

The country's top doctor unveiled new recommendations Tuesday around non-medical masks, saying they should be made of at least three layers and stressing their importance as the country heads indoors for winter.

Face masks should comprise two layers of tightly woven fabric such as cotton or linen, plus a third layer of a “filter-type fabric” such as non-woven polypropylene, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“We're not necessarily saying throw out everything that you have,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said at a news conference.

“The fit is the most important thing,” she said, emphasizing a pinched nose and full coverage of nose and mouth, but also comfort and breathability.

In a departure from news conference habit, the country's top politicians and doctors wore their masks except when speaking, underscoring the role of face coverage.

“Because it's winter, because we're all going inside, we're learning more about droplets and aerosols. It's just another layer of protection,” Tam said in Ottawa.

Also on Tuesday, the federal Liberals tabled a bill that would extend the federal wage subsidy and stop a previously planned slide in the value of payments as concerns over small businesses' survival prospects escalate.

The bill also creates a new commercial rent-relief program to provide aid directly to businesses. The Liberals' last version relied on landlords to apply for help, which they didn't do in great numbers.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole is calling for the Liberals to put a pause on federal audits of small businesses hit hard by COVID-19.

He says too many small and medium-sized businesses are struggling to survive during the pandemic, and still have been hit by what he calls unfair audit requests from the Canada Revenue Agency.

Many small businesses, such as restaurants and in the tourism sector have been asking unsuccessfully for months for extra help through the federal wage-subsidy program to keep employees on payrolls, O'Toole says.

“And then the audit process. Can you imagine a small business holding on by a thread and having the tax collector descend on you with an audit? I think it's horrible. It's unfair,” O'Toole said during a morning press conference.

​– With additional reporting from OBJ staff