MANITOULIN – The provincial announcement on Monday that Ontario is closing indoor dining at restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments until January 26 (although outdoor dining with restrictions, takeout, drive through and delivery is still permitted) has been met with sadness, disappointment and concern by representative Manitoulin businesses. The measure is only one the province is taking as it shuts down activities of all sorts at businesses and services across the province in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, in particular the Omicron variant.
“I’m saddened, disappointed and overwhelmed. I can’t understand why this is happening again,” said Denise Callaghan, owner of The Anchor Inn Hotel in Little Current. “It’s a sad day in the restaurant world.”
Ms. Callaghan said that, due to the measures taken by the province, “we will have to cut back hours and staff, and close our doors for indoor dining. These people also have kids, and mortgages like a lot of other people. In 21 days, hopefully we can get back to normal.”
Judith Martin, owner of The Codmothers in Gore Bay remarked, “I don’t know what to say any more. It’s terrible, this is a step back. And the help the government is offering is not much at the end of the day.”
“I’m completely dumbfounded by this whole thing,” said Ms. Martin. “We spend money on things like stock for our restaurant and then we have to reduce hours again and reduce hours and staff. The government had better come up with real good help for businesses.”
“I don’t dispute that the government has to do something with the increase in confirmed cases of COVID-19, but I’m not sure how much longer any of us can go on with the way things are,” said Ms. Martin. “A lot of restaurants have gone to just take out.”
James Moggy of the Grill and Chill restaurant in Mindemoya said, “its unfortunate what is being done, but it can’t be helped, the government needs to do it. We’re fortunate we have a takeout window. But I would rather see these restrictions in the winter when things are slower than in the summer season when it is really busy.”
“I know people are mad with the provincial announcement, but if our hospitals get too full, we will all be in trouble,” said Mr. Moggy.
In response to recent trends that show an alarming increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, the Ontario government, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, is temporarily putting in place modifications that take into account the province’s successful vaccination efforts.
As part of the province’s response to the Omicron variant, starting January 5 (today), students will again pivot to remote learning with free emergency child care planned for school-aged children of health care and other eligible frontline workers.
“As we continue with our provincial vaccine booster efforts, we must look at every option to slow the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant,” said Premier Doug Ford. “Putting these targeted and time-limited measures in place will give us more opportunity to deliver vaccines to all Ontarians and ensure everyone has maximum protection against this virus.”
Unlike other variants throughout the pandemic, evolving data is showing that while the Omicron variant is less severe, its high transmissibility has resulted in a larger number of hospital admissions relative to intensive care unit (ICU) admissions. Staff absenteeism is also expected to rise and affect operations in workplaces across Ontario due to Omicron infection and exposure, including in hospitals and schools. Real-world experience and evidence in Ontario reveal that approximately one per cent of Omicron cases require hospital care. The rapid rise of Omicron cases, which may soon number in the hundreds of thousands, could result in the province’s hospital capacity becoming overwhelmed if further action isn’t taken to curb transmission.
The province will return to the modified version of Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen effective Wednesday, January 5, 2022 at 12:01 a.m. for at least 21 days (until January 26, 2022), subject to trends in public health and health system indicators.
These measures include: Reducing social gathering limits to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors; limiting capacity at organized public events to five people indoors; requiring businesses and organizations to ensure employees work remotely unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site; limiting capacity at indoor weddings, funerals, and religious services, rites and ceremonies to 50 per cent capacity of the particular room. Outdoor services are limited to the number of people that can maintain two metres of physical distance. Social gatherings associated with these services must adhere to the social gathering limits.
Retail settings, including shopping malls, are reduced to 50 per cent capacity. For shopping malls, physical distancing will be required in line-ups, loitering will not be permitted and food courts will be required to close; personal care services including hairdressers and barbers are permitted at 50 per cent capacity and other restrictions. Saunas, steam rooms, and oxygen bars will be closed, as will gyms.
Indoor meeting and event spaces will be closed but outdoor spaces will remain open with restrictions.
Public libraries are limited to 50 per cent capacity.
Indoor dining is closed at restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments. Outdoor dining with restrictions, takeout, drive through and delivery is permitted. The sale of alcohol is restricted after 10 pm and the consumption of alcohol on-premise in businesses or settings after 11 p.m. with delivery and takeout, grocery/convenience stores and other liquor stores exempted.
The province is closing all indoor concert venues, theatres, cinemas, rehearsals and recorded performances permitted with restrictions. Museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions, amusement parks and waterparks, tour and guide services and fairs, rural exhibitions, and festivals are being closed. Outdoor establishments are permitted to open with restrictions and with spectator occupancy, and where applicable, limited to 50 per cent capacity.
Indoor horse racing tracks, car racing tracks and other similar venues are being closed. Outdoor establishments are permitted to open with restrictions and with spectator occupancy limited to 50 per cent capacity. Boat tours are permitted at 50 per cent capacity.
Also closed are indoor sport and recreational fitness facilities including gyms, except for athletes training for the Olympics and Paralympics and select professional and elite amateur sport leagues. Outdoor facilities are permitted to operate but with the number of spectators not to exceed 50 per cent occupancy and other requirements.
All publicly funded and private schools will move to remote learning starting January 5 until at least January 17, subject to public health trends and operational considerations.
School buildings would be permitted to open for child care operations, including emergency child care, to provide in-person instruction for students with special education needs who cannot be accommodated remotely and for staff who are unable to deliver quality instruction from home.
During this period of remote learning, free emergency child care will be provided for school-aged children of health care and other eligible frontline workers.
On January 5, the Chief Medical Officer of Health will reinstate Directive 2 for hospitals and regulated health professionals, instructing hospitals to pause all non-emergent and non-urgent surgeries and procedures in order to preserve critical care and human resource capacity.
In recognition of the impact the Omicron variant and additional public health measures have on small businesses, the government is expanding the new Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program. Eligible businesses that are required to close or reduce capacity will receive rebate payments for a portion of the property tax and energy costs they incur while subject to these measures. Eligible businesses required to reduce capacity to 50 per cent, such as smaller retail stores, will receive a rebate payment equivalent to 50 per cent of their costs, while businesses required to close for indoor activities, such as restaurants and gyms, will receive a rebate payment equivalent to 100 per cent of their costs. A full list of eligible business types will be made available when applications for the program open later this month.
To improve cash flows for Ontario businesses, effective January 1, 2022, the government is also providing up to $7.5 billion for a six-month interest- and penalty-free period for Ontario businesses to make payments for most provincially administered taxes, supporting businesses now and providing the flexibility they will need for long-term planning.
“As cases continue to rise at a rapid rate and evidence on the Omicron variant evolves, additional time-limited measures are needed to help limit transmission as Team Ontario continues to get booster doses into arms,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “While this was not an easy decision, these measures will help preserve hospital bed capacity and prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.”
“While the risks for severe illness are lower with Omicron than with the previous variants of concern, it is far more transmissible and hospitalizations are expected to continue to increase placing greater pressure on our health system,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “It is difficult but necessary to apply additional public health and workplace safety measures to help stop the spread of the virus and protect our health system capacity. Please follow all public measures and get vaccinated with your first, second or booster dose if you have not done already.”