Local bar and gym owners blasted the province’s move to impose new restrictions on their businesses Friday, saying they felt unfairly singled out as the Ontario government struggles to contain a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
The province announced the new measures for Ottawa, Toronto and Peel Region in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Indoor dining at restaurants and bars will be prohibited, while gyms, movie theatres and casinos will be closed. The measures go into effect Saturday and will be in place for at least 28 days.
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The government is also asking people in those areas to leave their homes only for essential purposes. Schools and places of worship remain open.
The province’s decision didn’t sit well with Dave Longbottom, owner of Centretown’s Flora Hall brew pub.
“They as much as admitted that the problem has been private gatherings,” he told OBJ Friday afternoon. “By closing us, it’s inevitable that there will be more socializing at home, and when there’s socializing at home, there’s just de facto going to be a looser and more risky scenario.”
Longbottom said it doesn’t make sense to shut down small establishments like his while big-box department stores and malls are allowed to remain open.
“The question I would ask is, why hospitality?” he said, adding it’s “inevitable” that the forced closure will trigger more pub and restaurant owners to throw in the towel and shut their doors permanently.
“Why not Costco? Walmart? It seems to me that if they’re going to make some sort of change like this which is so significant in its impact that there should be data provided to justify it. And there was none.
“It’s a bit demoralizing, mostly because of the absence of rationale. Whatever measures are required to get this thing under control, I’m all in. But I’m not into random measures that are being implemented as a means to be seen to be doing something.”
Ashley Lawrie, CEO of Ottawa-based Free Form Fitness, said she was baffled by the province’s failure to explain why it targeted certain businesses and not others.
“They’re keeping the malls open, but they’re closing down a place where your mental health is taken care of,” she said. “I don’t understand the logic behind it. It’s no longer making sense.”
Lawrie said her fitness chain is going “above and beyond” to prevent the spread of COVID-19, requiring clients at its six Ottawa locations to wear masks at all times and limiting the number of people in its gyms to about four at a time.
“Here we are being super extra-cautious … and they close us down,” she said. “I’m a little frustrated. I don’t know what the future holds.”
The new restrictions come as Ontario marked a record 939 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, most of them in Ottawa, Toronto and Peel. Those regions have consistently reported the majority of new cases in recent weeks.
The government said if current trends continue, the province could experience “worst-case scenarios” seen in northern Italy and New York City earlier in the pandemic.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said the sharp increase in daily case numbers was very concerning and action was required, particularly in settings where mask-wearing and physical distancing is more difficult.
Dr. David Williams said the new measures will take the three hot-spot regions back to a “modified Stage Two” of the province’s pandemic response plan, which saw restrictions on non-essential businesses earlier this year.
He said that if people return to following public health guidelines well, the province can once again flatten the curve.
“We’ve done this before, I think we can do it again,” he said.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, who is advising the province on its pandemic response, said taking the targeted action could mean avoiding broader province-wide restrictions down the road.
“Jurisdictions that are intervening early are getting better control of the pandemic,” he said.
Wedding receptions banned
The province said it is also suspending wedding receptions temporarily in the three regions, starting Tuesday. Receptions scheduled this weekend may proceed in line with current public health measures, it said.
Personal care services where face coverings must be removed will also be prohibited under the new restrictions.
Last week, health officials warned that Ontario could see 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day by mid-October, and that rising infections among young people were driving the spread of the virus among all demographics.
Groups such as the Ontario Hospital Association and Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario have been calling for targeted restrictions in hot spot regions.
Toronto’s medical officer of health has also recommended more stringent measures and last week urged the province to take action in that city.
OHA president Anthony Dale warned this week that a surge in COVID-19 cases could overwhelm the province’s hospitals and limit their ability to perform during the pandemic.
Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 were up Friday, with 225 people admitted, compared with 192 a day earlier. The province said 47 people are in intensive care and 29 are on a ventilator.
The province also reported five new deaths due to the virus on Friday.
The government said it has a backlog of 58,173 tests, and has conducted 44,914 tests since the last daily report.
Ontario also reported 56 new COVID-19 cases related to schools on Friday, including at least 32 among students. Those bring the number of schools with a reported case to 429 out of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools.
The latest figures bring the total of COVID-19 cases in Ontario to 57,681, with 2,997 deaths, and 49,032 cases resolved.
– With files from the Canadian Press