Ontario is shutting down all indoor and outdoor dining for a minimum of 28 days in response to rising COVID-19 cases.
The province’s self-styled “emergency brake” response includes prohibiting all Ontario dining indoors and on patios, just weeks after many establishments had been allowed to re-open for dining and open patios.
Takeout, delivery, and drive-thru options will still be allowed.
The measure is effective from Easter Saturday, April 3.
“We are facing a serious situation and drastic measures are required to contain the rapid spread of the virus, especially the new variants of concern,” Premier Doug Ford said in a statement. “I know pulling the emergency brake will be difficult on many people across the province, but we must try and prevent more people from getting infected and overwhelming our hospitals. Our vaccine rollout is steadily increasing, and I encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. That is our best protection against this deadly virus.”
Other restrictions being implemented province-wide include a 50-per-cent capacity limit for supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, indoor farmers’ markets, other stores that primarily sell food and pharmacies, and a 25-per-cent limit for all other retail including big box stores.
When asked why his government started to ease measures just a few weeks ago before shutting things back down again, Ford said it was due to “a combination of things,” such as local officials pushing for things to reopen, and an inconsistent supply of vaccines, per CBC.
“You walk down the streets in your area and the patios are packed,” Ford said. His government had allowed those patios to open in recent weeks.
RELATED: B.C. indoor dining banned amid rising COVID-19 cases
The new “shutdown” of Ontario dining has been opposed by small business and restaurant groups, with some demanding compensation.
“Our industry needs more compensation to get through this as our industry has suffered enough,” read a statement from the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA). “ORHMA is fighting for more industry funding support.”
Todd Barclay, CEO of Restaurants Canada, called the new shutdown “devastating”, per Global. He said the province must offer compensation for restaurateurs who have been hiring staff and stocking their shelves with food over the past two weeks to help them cover rent, utility, and other costs for the duration of the lockdown.
“Two weeks ago, medical officers of health were out discussing the fact that outdoor gathering is good for mental health and is a safe way for people to congregate and here we are, less than two weeks later, being told there’s a potential we’ll be shut down again,” Barclay said. “The lockdown should be across all sectors, because effectively what I’m hearing they’re going to do is what’s been happening in Toronto for the last six months and it hasn’t worked.”
Barclay says the restaurant sector has been “scapegoated” even though it’s not a significant part of the problem.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said Thursday it wants all provincial governments to look at lockdown alternatives and increased financial support for small businesses as several jurisdictions move to tougher restrictions.
“Small businesses are tired of being a scapegoat for the Ontario government’s lack of planning or foresight,” said Ryan Mallough, CFIB director of provincial affairs for Ontario, in a statement. “For months, they have been told that there is light at the end of the tunnel or a new announcement that’s a ‘game-changer,’ and for months nothing has changed.”
CFIB president Dan Kelly says the first two shutdowns were devastating with one in six businesses considering permanent closure.
The group says a survey found that two-thirds of small businesses would consider using COVID-19 rapid tests to remain open, and that Canadian small businesses on average have taken on $170,000 in COVID-19-related debt.
It reports that three-quarters of respondents said it will take more than a year to pay off.