Ottawa BIA group wants meeting with province to discuss COVID-19 restrictions

Heart and Crown
Popular bars such as the Heart and Crown in the ByWard Market, shown boarded up this spring, are once again closed as part of measures to control the spread of COVID-19. Photo by Paul McKinnon/iStock

An organization that represents more than 6,200 Ottawa businesses wants the province to explain why it imposed new restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms and other local enterprises last weekend as part of its latest effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

In an open letter, the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas is calling for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott and Economic Development Minister Vic Fideli to provide a rationale for their decision to ban indoor food and beverage services at bars and restaurants and order the closure of gyms, meeting halls, movie theatres, casinos and a range of other venues for at least 28 days.

“We request an immediate meeting to discuss and justify the closure measures as they relate to the spread of Covid-19, the data points used to make this decision, the contact tracing results, the decision-making protocols, and plans for future measures should the number of new cases continue to grow,” says the letter, signed by coalition chair Mark Kaluski.

“We will also request that messaging and fines for those who break quarantine rules and eschew public health measures be severe and swift.”

While the organization says it fully supports the province’s intent to limit the spread of the virus, it argues its members are being unfairly singled out because there is no evidence that COVID-19 is spreading through establishments such as bars and restaurants.

'Undistanced activities' to blame

“To date, no known transmission of Covid-19 has been publicly ascribed to employee-to-customer or customer-to-customer transfer in Ottawa,” the letter says, adding public health data has “consistently suggested” that the recent spike in infections has been fuelled by social gatherings and “other undistanced activities.”

The group says its members are being forced to bear responsibility for rising case numbers even though they’ve been strictly abiding by measures aimed at containing the virus.

“These restrictions create a perception that businesses are unsafe and this will only further undermine efforts to instill customer confidence, even as our members follow public health recommended protocols with absolute compliance,” Kaluski wrote before urging the province to reconsider its decision in consultation with local health authorities.

West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, council’s representative for BIAs, said Tuesday he will introduce a motion at Wednesday’s council meeting asking his colleagues to “fully support” the organization's demands in the letter.

“In many cases, these latest restrictions will be the final nail in the coffin for many local businesses,” El-Chantiry wrote in his weekly newsletter to constituents. 

“My hope is that getting City Council's support of OCOBIA will add some additional pressure on the province to reconsider some of their latest restrictions and policies.”  

Meanwhile, an online petition calling for gyms in the COVID-19 hotspots of Ottawa, Toronto and Peel to be reopened has garnered more than 7,900 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon. 

The petition touts the mental and physical health benefits of exercise, arguing there is “no substantial evidence” that gyms and fitness facilities in those cities have been responsible for outbreaks of the virus.

Nationally, Cineplex CEO Ellis Jacob also fired back at the province’s decision – which closed 22 of its 68 theatres in the province on less than a day's notice – telling investors Tuesday that the company has seen zero cases of COVID-19 traced back to its theatres since reopening in the summer.

Ottawa Public Health reported 116 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and declared 115 more cases resolved. There are currently 839 known active cases in the city, with 48 infected patients in hospital and 10 in intensive care.

– With a report from the Canadian Press