“While large chain businesses have a corporate framework to support them, small businesses must sink or swim on their own. If all retail environments are able to remain open with reduced capacity, there seems little reason why other small businesses cannot remain open with the same protective measures in place.” – Mayor Jeff Lehman
As the region moves back into the Grey-Lockdown zone restaurants and bars are shuttering their doors once again mere weeks after reopening when the province moved out of the stay-at-home shutdown.
The measure is being called an “emergency break” to prevent a possible third wave of the pandemic due to the presence of variant strains of COVID-19 in Simcoe/Muskoka, according to the health unit.
“I have heard from many people who are concerned about the impact on people’s livelihood, on their businesses, and physical and mental wellbeing, and I sympathize with them. I know that this is incredibly difficult and I sincerely wish we were not in this level of restriction,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, the Medical Officer of Health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.
“However, we are seeing increases of cases and outbreaks of the UK B1.1.7 variant in Simcoe and Muskoka in workplaces, long-term care facilities, a child care centre and an apartment building. Countries that have experienced high numbers of the variants of concern have then experienced a third wave of COVID-19 and we need to act early to prevent that from happening here.”
The health unit says the region has the highest number of variants of concern in Ontario. To date, 190 local cases have been tested positive for the UK B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant of concern, and another 309 cases have screened positive and are awaiting confirmatory testing, according to the unit’s latest report. The variants are more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain, and result in more severe disease.
New protocols announced by the Province means that smaller retail stores can remain open, operating at a 25-percent capacity. However, bars and restaurants are once again closed.
Most of the cases are from the Barrie and South Simcoe areas. Outbreaks in the region include a high of 41 in long-term-care settings, with 511 total cases, and 111 total deaths, to numbers such as one in construction, with a total of three cases and one death.
The food and beverages sector is on the low end of the spectrum, with five outbreaks, 21 total cases, and zero deaths.
The Barrie Chamber of Commerce is voicing concern about the impact of the move to the Grey-Lockdown zone on local businesses, including the hospital sector.
“The (chamber) strongly requests that the Province … implement a modified red zone – one that will maintain the tighter restrictions on capacity in the larger stores where we have already seen outbreaks, and allow restaurants and businesses offering personal services to stay open safely by following the prescribed protocols for safety and tracing, but still allow Dr. Gardner to move quickly should numbers increase to the level that a more restrictive state is necessary,” the statement reads.
“The small businesses in our region have gone to great lengths to follow provincial directives to reopen safely, often at great personal expense and after a long year of closures and reduced capacity that have significantly diminished their income, savings, and ability to make these investments.”
And in an open letter to Premier Doug Ford, MPPs, and Dr. Gardner, Mayor Jeff Lehman called for “immediate changes to the regulations to address the many, many concerns I’ve heard this weekend.” Some aspects of the Grey-Lockdown restrictions are unjustified and damaging to small businesses, he said.
“This issue has been raised this weekend by people in my city specifically in the personal service sector, who are losing their livelihood. While large chain businesses have a corporate framework to support them, small businesses must sink or swim on their own.
“If all retail environments are able to remain open with reduced capacity, there seems little reason why other small businesses cannot remain open with the same protective measures in place.”
The mayor is asking the Province “immediately revise” the Grey-Lockdown restrictions to permit small businesses to remain open that can operate with little or no public health risk.