Ontario pauses reopening plans amid 4th wave and some businesses are cheesed
It looks like capacity limits will stay in place for wedding venues, gyms, nightclubs, bowling alleys, movie theatres and the like in Ontario — at least until officials can get this fourth wave of COVID under control.
The province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, surprised some eager business owners on Tuesday after suggesting last week that an end to Step 3 restrictions was just around the corner.
Instead, Moore announced instead a series of new measures this afternoon to stop (or at least slow down) the agressive Delta variant of COVID and protect vulnerable individuals.
Immunization policies will soon be mandatory across a host of services and industries, children born in 2009 or earlier will soon be able to get jabs of Pfizer, and third doses of vaccines will be made available to groups including frail seniors, transplant recipients and people in high-risk congregate settings.
The news is surely welcome among Ontarians who are worried about rising case numbers and stagnant vaccination rates, but it's bittersweet for those who were eager to exit the reopening process, as one of the key moves announced today was "pausing the province's exit from the Roadmap to Reopen."
Out of an abundance of caution, Ontario is pausing its exit from the Roadmap to Reopen.— Christine Elliott (@celliottability) August 17, 2021
The province will continue to monitor the data to determine when it is safe to exit the Roadmap. https://t.co/CJOiL2EJ5f pic.twitter.com/G4CKqdrUTS
"The policies I am announcing today are an important link in the chain of protection that will help keep Ontario strong in the face of the fourth wave," said Moore during a press conference at Queen's Park Tuesday afternoon.
"The Delta variant is more transmissible and has resulted in a reintroduction of COVID-19 in some high-risk settings such as hospitals, home and community care, and congregate settings."
Certainly nobody wants to see more people die or for lockdowns to reappear, but some business owners are cheesed nonetheless to learn that Step 3 will now be in effect until further notice.
"Yet again the Ontario government moves the COVID goalposts, leaving thousands of small businesses with no pathway to breaking even due to capacity constraints, no idea of when the rules will change and no additional financial support," tweeted Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) CEO Dan Kelly following Moore's presser.
"It is tremendously disappointing to see the Ontario government move the goalposts and indefinitely delay the full reopening of gyms, wedding venues, dance studios, bowling alleys, movie theatres and other recreation and fitness businesses," said the CFIB's Ryan Mallough similarly.
"Businesses that had booked events, acts and classes into the fall and winter will now be forced to reassess and potentially lose significant business. Many are already only hanging on by a thread. One wedding venue told us they went from 307 events in 2019 to eight in 2020."
Wedding venues have lost two full seasons. Many had indicates they were booking (often rebooking for the second or third time) events for the fall. To have these snatched away will be devastating for venues and all of the offshoot businesses that depend on them. #onpoli https://t.co/Vu2E7qdG2x— Ryan (@R_Mallough) August 16, 2021
The CFIB is urging Ford to provide more help to keep these businesses afloat while some restrictions continue. Concert venues, cinemas, and performing arts theatres are currently capped at 50 per cent of capacity or 1,000 people (whichever is less) for seated indoor events, for the record.
Nightclubs and other food or drink establishments with dance facilities can host up to 25 per cent of their usual capacity or 250 people, whichever is less.
"The Ontario government must provide additional financial support to these businesses so long as they're keeping them 50 per cent closed," said Mallough. "Bills are still coming in [while] existing programs top up for closure, not capacity restrictions. This decision is crushing, they need support."
Government officials, meanwhile, are urging unvaccinated Ontarians to go and get immunized. At present, 71.6 per cent of the entire population (including children who are not yet eligible) have recieved one dose of a Health Canada-approved vaccine. Roughly 64 per cent of the same group has now recieved two shots.
Despite being long past the obligatory 21-day mark, the province has yet to reach several key vaccination milestones (including that no public health unit can have less than 70 per cent of their total 12+ populations vaxxed) required to exit Step 3 of reopening.
We do own a bowling alley and our industry has suffered with the unfair restrictions the past 18 months. How is it fair to be told you can only operate at half capacity, yet all retail has no capacity restrictions?— Marlena Ladouceur (@MMLadouceur) August 17, 2021
In Toronto, where 3,616 people have died from COVID-19 to date, 81 per cent of eligible people over 12 have been partially vaccinated, 74 per cent fully.
"Toronto Public Health is reporting that, since May 1, 98.7 per cent of hospitalized COVID-19 cases with known vaccination status were not fully vaccinated," reads a new release from the province's largest city issued Monday.
"Fully vaccinated people have greater protection against COVID-19 than unvaccinated people, including against the Delta variant."
Ford similarly told conference delegates on Monday that "vaccinations ensure that people who do get infected can avoid the worst-case scenarios."
"They ensure that we can protect our hospitals from being overrun and threatening the entire healthcare system," said the premier.
"And so, I encourage everyone to do their part, get your shots and ensure you have the most protection possible, for yourselves and for others."
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