ontario reopening

Ontario personal care sector confused about reopening after being left out of province's plan

Monday marks Ontario's much-anticipated entry into the first phase of its new reopening plan following nearly four weeks of another round of business closures and other firm lockdown restrictions, and while owners and patrons of bars, restaurants, gyms and more are rejoicing, there are some businesses that are still wondering if they're allowed to resume services.

In the detailed timeline for this iteration of reopening, the hospitality sector is covered, as are settings like event venues, retail stores and shopping malls, cinemas, concert halls, sports arenas, museums, casinos, places of worship and fitness centres.

Notably missing from the government's map are personal care settings, ostensibly because the sector was still allowed to remain open at 50 per cent capacity during these last few weeks.

But, this wasn't the case across the board for all businesses depending on the types of services they offer — something that the Ministry of Health seems to have overlooked when planning for reopening.

Though it was not explicity mentioned in the formal announcement about public health measures that went into place on Jan. 5, businesses that offer services requiring the removal of a face mask indoors found that they were no longer permitted to do so as part of the lockdown.

This meant that while somewhere like a barber shop could continue to operate with capacity limits and other measures in place, they could not perform beard trims, for which clients must take off their face coverings.

Similarly, spas had to cease some types of waxing, injections and facials, which also meant that businesses that only offer facial services — such as Blitz Facial Bar, which has four locations in Toronto — had to shut down completely.

These businesses were also left in the dark about when they could reopen, some of them unable to get a firm answer from the government even when they tried to contact them.

"It's been super frustrating. We've been pulled back and forth, closed, non-essential, essential, can't check vaccine passports, must check vaccine passports and now we've been completely forgotten," says Ashley Nevin, owner at Cameron House Barbers.

"It seems ridiculous to me that they've included everything from water parks to sex clubs and museums in the reopening plan, but not personal care settings. We've been left in complete limbo."

As of Jan. 31, the first day of phase 1, Nevin still hadn't been able to find out if and when her staff could restart beard trim services, whether in writing or from public health when she called.

Staff at Blitz were similarly confounded, unsure at first of whether they needed to close on Jan. 5, and then unable to secure information about when they could open their doors again. Owner Laura Polley says this is just one example of the confusion the industry has faced over the course of the health crisis as they are often left out.

"Blitz Facial Bar and Body Blitz Spa were closed for approximately 14 months on-and-off (because we were 'high risk'), yet when vaccines were mandated, personal services were not included as we were perceived as low risk," Polley says, noting the inconsistency of the government's directives.

A spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Health thankfully confirmed to blogTO that personal care facial treatments and other services for which customers need to take off their masks are permitted again as of 12:01 a.m. on Jan 31.

While personal care services are not mentioned anywhere in the timeline that extends into March, potential end dates for mask mandates and proof of vaccination rules in public indoor settings were also omitted from the timeline, meaning both will continue until at least March.

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