ontario lockdown

Ontario gyms and restaurants ask Doug Ford to let them reopen immediately

As the province poises itself to loosen some pandemic restrictions for Step 1 of reopening in a few weeks, small businesses are calling for Premier Doug Ford to let them open earlier than initially planned in his team's new framework for restarting the economy.

As part of the first step on June 14, patio dining will resume with stringent measures and non-essential retail stores will be able to open their doors with 15 per cent capacity limits in place, but a slew of other businesses will be forced to remain shuttered until Steps 2 and 3.

With a minimum of 21 days necessary between steps, this could mean months for some operations, including indoor dining and gym sessions.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which has advocated for more lenient lockdown rules for much of the health crisis, on Tuesday penned an open letter to Ford asking that, instead of the gradual three-step process now planned, he permit businesses to open immediately lest they face the prospect of permanent closure.

"June 2 was supposed to be the day that Ontario's retailers, restaurant patios, gyms and hair salons could finally reopen their doors after two long months of province-wide lockdown," the letter from the representative body reads, referencing the date that the stay-at-home order and provincial shutdown were anticipated to end.

"Instead, Ontario's reopening plan has them remaining closed for at least another two weeks, and many for much longer. Meanwhile, COVID cases continue a strong downward trend, and estimates show vaccinations have already hit the first-dose threshold for Step 2."

It is indeed true that Ontario reported the lowest number of daily new cases it's seen since October on Tuesday (only 699) and that vaccination numbers are ramping up and putting us ahead of the province's reopening timeline.

As of last week, more than 65 per cent of adults in the province have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine — over 70 per cent in Toronto specifically now — begging the question as to why we have not yet been allowed to progress to Step 1 of reopening, which necessitates that only 60 per cent of residents 18+ have one or more doses.

According to CFIB numbers, at this point, 42 per cent of small businesses in the province are fully open, 37 per cent are fully staffed, and only 27 per cent are at normal revenue levels.

"Restaurants in Toronto have been closed to indoor dining for 367 days across the various provincial lockdown," it notes. "An entire year's worth of business has been lost and the industry is looking, at minimum, at another 67 days of being closed to indoor dining under the current plan."

As such, the organization has a number of demands: That immediately, all retail stores be able to open to at least 20 per cent capacity, that restaurants be able to open patios and resume "limited" indoor service, and that hair salons and gyms be able to operate on an appointment-only basis.

They also ask that the province reconsider its tentative reopening dates, extend grants for businesses and consider faster reopening for certain regions, among other things.

It also compares Ontario's sluggish reopening to the rest of the country's provinces, which seem to be faring far better and opening sooner.

"The situation is dire, and the cost of not moving sooner will be immense," reads the letter.

Other groups, businesses and individuals have made similar appeals in recent weeks after data has proven that settings such as restaurants and shops are not the main drivers of virus spread, but that less restricted workplaces such as factories and construction sites are.

Lead photo by

Jeremy Gilbert

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