Business groups say they are disappointed and devastated by the impending lockdown restrictions imposed on Toronto and Peel Region that the Ontario government announced Friday.
The two COVID-19 hot spots will be moved to the grey-lockdown level at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 23.
The new measures, which will be in place for at least 28 days, include banning in-person shopping with exceptions for essential retailers such as supermarkets, hardware stores, department stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and beer and liquor stores, all of which will now face a 50 per cent capacity limit.
[List of what’s allowed and what’s not in the lockdown zone]
During the announcement, Ford urged residents to shop local to support the businesses affected by the restrictions.
“I know it can be easy just to go with Amazon, but please remember that you can buy the exact same product from a local store. Please buy from local stores,” said the premier.
Speaking to CP24 Friday night, Diane J. Brisebois, the president and CEO of Retail Council of Canada, said she is disappointed by the move.
While business owners knew that the province was looking at imposing restrictions, Brisebois hoped that the province would put capacity limits instead of barring in-person shopping altogether.
“To buy local, obviously, you have to have access to the business. And local merchants need the space in front of their store and parking to allow for curbside pickup,” she said.
“So, there are a lot of challenges. I don’t think it’s realistic. It will be difficult for our merchants in this holiday season, [which is a] critical time of the year for them.”
Brisebois argued if the province really did want to support businesses, they need to rethink the lockdown as she claimed cases are not coming from the retail sector.
“If there is a concern, it’s understandable. Let’s decrease the number of people out in stores but let’s not shut down part of retail, and let’s make sure that everyone can survive.”
The province said it will double the funding available for struggling businesses to $600 million.
“We must all rally around our businesses and our neighbours right now. We must support them. Our government will be there to do our part,” said Ford.
Rocco Rossi, the president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said the funding should be available as soon as possible because he believes this second lockdown will be more devastating than the one at the beginning of the pandemic.
“The first time around, businesses had some reserves on hand, had some ability to borrow additional (money) to survive, but they’ve burned through all of that, they’re up to their eyeballs in debt,” he said in an interview with CP24.
“They’ve even made enormous expenditures to be able to operate during COVID. And so being shut down in this way is brutal, and it is critical that those supports and that money flows.”
The government, Rossi said, needs to do more testing and contact tracing to get a full picture of the cases in Ontario.
“If we actually knew where all of the cases originated and how they spread, we could keep more of the economy open and safer for everyone,” he said.
“And that investment, unfortunately, has not been sufficient to date.”
With the lockdown running through the busy holiday season, Rossi echoed the premier’s message, encouraging the public to shop local.
“Your local businesses have never needed your business more than they do today. Government programs are great, but there’s nothing like the consumer using their wallet to help a company ring their cash register.
Under the lockdown category, restaurants and bars are not allowed to serve customers on their premises, even on a patio.
Before Friday’s announcement, indoor dining had been prohibited for weeks in Toronto amid the resurgence of COVID-19.
“I think the frustration in our industry is for five weeks they’ve been telling us that if we shut down and everything would be fine. And that hasn’t been the case,” James Rilett, the vice president of Restaurants Canada, said in an interview with CP24.
Rilett said he and many restaurant owners question the decisions provincial officials had made in the past few weeks.
He noted that the hospitality industry is not the problem, saying data has shown that COVID-19 transmission is not happening in bars or restaurants.
“Restaurants feel that they’re a safe place to go and gather. They’re a safe place to meet people,” Rilett said.
“They’re watched over. They’ve made sure that safety protocols are observed. And so right from the start, we have not done whatever we’ve been asked to do.”
While previously released provincial data showed that most of the known outbreaks in hot spots were not traced back to restaurants, many cases did not have an epidemiological link to a source.
“It’s never been explained to us why we’re the ones that bear the brunt of the attacks,” said Rilett.
Despite getting relief from the province and the federal government, he said it will not help owners pay the debt they’ve accrued over the pandemic.
“It does nothing to replace your revenue. And it does nothing to get the money you need in your in the bank to survive the long winter,” Rilett said.
“It’s appreciated every little bit helps. But it definitely won’t be enough to save a lot of restaurants in Toronto.”