As business owners and employees in Toronto and Peel Region brace for a 28-day lockdown beginning on Monday amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, some say planning uncertainty and thousands spent to adapt to the pandemic mean an uncertain future.
“We’ve put so much effort into all this, and having that taken away for the holidays… it sucks at the end of the day,” Chad Welton, co-owner of Anglr restaurant in Toronto, told Global News Friday afternoon.
“I just hope that locals keep supporting their restaurants and small businesses.”
Welton, like many other Toronto and Peel Region business owners, said he has spent thousands to buy heaters and rent tents to cover his outdoor restaurant patio. For weeks, indoor dining has been banned in the city and reduced-capacity outdoor dining has been providing some income.
During a news conference Friday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford and Ontario government officials announced a lockdown would begin at 12:01 a.m. on Monday. Restaurants and personal care businesses (such as salons, barbershops etc.) were among the hardest hit with restrictions such as sit-in services, indoor and outdoor dining all banned for at least four weeks.
The news came as 1,418 new cases of COVID-19 were reported across the province on Friday, along with eight new deaths related to the virus. There were 400 new cases in Peel Region, 393 in Toronto and 168 in York Region. The latest figures pushed the province over the 100,000 case mark, for a total of 100,790 infections.
“This virus, it spreads like wildfire, and in certain parts of the province it’s spreading at alarming rates in the community,” Ford said.
“Last week, modelling showed that if nothing was done we could face 6,000 daily cases, overwhelming our ICUs shortly after that. More deaths. More losses. But we can avoid this if we take further action now.”
Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, said the new measures are likely to slow community spread of the virus, but will not be enough to dramatically lower surging case counts. He said the government is still not restricting the right things to strike at where the virus is being spread.
“We’re letting weddings go, we’re letting religious services happen,” he said.
“These are things that are happening without masks, like singing and hugging, these sorts of things. We had to make those stop.”
Retail businesses and department stores not selling essential items will only be allowed to open for curbside pick-up and delivery. However, grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, hardware stores, alcohol providers, pharmacies, safety supply stores will be exempt from in-person shopping restrictions
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business called the choice to keep big-box retailers open during the lockdown while closing smaller shops a “gut punch.”
“It is outrageous that today’s restrictions once again create an unfair advantage for big-box operators like Walmart and Costco, leaving Main Street retailers to shoulder the burden alone,” the group said.
Ford and Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips announced $600 million (part of the total is new funding) in relief measures to help businesses with fixed costs during closure periods. Business owners can also apply for funding to help with buying personal protective equipment.
Applications for funding are being processed through the Ontario government’s website.
Jim Solomon, owner of the HoneFitness chain of gyms, said he will be applying for “every penny possibly can” as Ontario navigates the latest wave in the pandemic. He said he has had to spend thousands of dollars to retrofit lockers, locker rooms, buying personal protective equipment and moving equipment out to accommodate wider separation requirements.
“We’ll survive this thing, but it’s going to be challenging in this period of time. You look out, I think it’s going to be challenging for four or five months,” Solomon said, calling on Ford and all governments to provide as much help as possible to businesses.
“There’s a lot of pressure on the industry.”
Adding to financial woes, he said, has been changing regulations for gyms. It was only around a week ago when gyms in Toronto were allowed to reopen under strict conditions as the municipality imposed additional closure measures on top of provincial regulations. Gyms were allowed to reopen with an indoor cap of 10 people — irrespective of the size of the facility.
“I’ve been open a week. I’ve been scrambling around on the 10 people and they shut me down,” Solomon said.
“It seems like the City of Toronto is not coordinated with Ontario.
“The on-and-off ‘faucet’ that has gone from March until now has hurt the confidence of the consumer. We need as much help as we can possibly get and as much consistency.”
Meanwhile, despite the announcement on Friday, Welton said he’s focused on looking forward.
“You’ve got to stay positive and so what we’re going to do is adapt to what’s going on right now,” he said.
“I think we’ll make it through, I hope.”
— With files from The Canadian Press
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