By Tom Nightingale
Alberta restaurants will be able to offer dine-in service again starting Monday, Feb. 8 as part of the province’s plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions.
From today, establishments can seat up to six people at each table as long as they are from the same household. People who live alone can go to a restaurant with up to two close contacts.
Contact information must be collected from at least one member of each cohort and liquor sales must end at 10 p.m. In-person dining must end by 11 p.m.
Restaurants had been closed to in-person dining since the second week of December as part of renewed efforts to help curb the spread of the virus as cases spiked once more. The same restrictions that were in place back then, including 50 per cent capacity, will apply upon this week’s reopening.
The move comes after industry advocates including The Alberta Hospitality Association (AHA) requested more clarity from the government, including “fact-based rationale” on why indoor dining could not roepen.
The AHA had submitted a plan to the province that it said would allow restaurants and bars to reopen safely while maintaining proper COVID-19 safety measures. It also wrote an open letter to the province earlier this month asking for the reopening of dine-in with strong risk mitigation measures in place.
A tough spot
Many restaurants have been operating at a huge loss since those closures.
“A lot of restaurants are just hanging on by a thread, and we are not excluded from that. It’s tough,” James Martin, general manager of Home and Away sports bar in Calgary, told Global News.
Martin said he’s most excited for his staff, although only about a quarter of them will be able to return immediately. “I know it’s tough sitting at home making no money. It’s tough not only on your pocketbook but on your mental health. Our staff is really looking forward to being back and being together again.”
Premier Jason Kenney, who has criticized some restaurants in the past for ignoring public health orders by opening their doors prematurely, says reduced case numbers have made it possible to ease some restrictions like indoor dining.
He explains the decision to ease restrictions is based on a COVID-19 hospitalization benchmark of 600 patients, which the province reached on January 28. There are currently 594 people in the hospital with COVID-19, including 110 in intensive care.
“We hope that opening further activities, as part of Step 1, on February 8 will be another boost to some Alberta small businesses,” says Kenney. “We’ve made significant progress and we cannot lose sight of that. The more we see our numbers go down, the clearer our path forward becomes.”