B.C.’s restaurant sector has a simple, direct response to the Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry’s decision – announced only one day ahead of time – to ban alcohol sales from 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve to 9 a.m. the next day.
“We are profoundly disappointed because she has left a trail of disaster by making this decision,” said Ian Tostenson, president/CEO of the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association. “The decision was arbitrary, and the timing of it is terrible because it’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not millions. And it was unnecessary.
“Shame on Dr. Henry this time,” he concluded.
The ban was announced in a hastily called news conference on Wednesday afternoon – a day where provincial officials previously said they would have issued a press release for its daily COVID-19 update rather than holding a press briefing.
Instead, Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the ban at the event roughly 29 hours before it was to come into effect. The ban’s purpose, Henry said, is to decrease the late-night consumption of alcohol that leads to “risky behaviour” such as table-hopping and social gatherings outside of individual households – which, Henry said, has been proven to aid the spread of COVID-19.
Tostenson said that the announcement caught the entire industry by surprise because there was “zero consultation” from the province that this ban was under consideration.
“We all knew it’s going to be New Year’s Eve tomorrow; it’s not new,” he said. “We could have thought about this ahead of time. Industry could have worked with Dr. Henry to develop a plan… This didn’t need to happen.”
At the press conference, Henry said in response to a question about the last-minute nature of this decision that the NYE alcohol sales ban was actually under consideration “for some time” and that she felt it was something that needed to be done given what she has seen and heard about people’s New Year’s celebration plans.
She added the 8 p.m. time was actually decided upon with restaurants in mind.
“I know that many restaurants are planning two sittings, and the second sitting usually happens at around 7 to 7:30 p.m.,” Henry said. “So this does give people the opportunity to order wine with their meals… We tried to time it so that restaurants can have two sittings and provide food service, so we hope it’s not going to impact those restaurants who are doing a great job of keeping people safe.”
That explanation, however, does not fly with Tostenson or B.C.’s restaurant owners.
“In a lot of restaurants, 7:30 p.m. is the first sitting,” Tostenson said, adding that most restaurants have second sittings around 8 p.m. or later – past the newly imposed deadline.
One easy solution, he countered, would have been to set the deadline one hour later at 9 p.m. to cover the vast majority of restaurants’ second sittings – something that restaurant owners would have told Henry and the province if given the chance.
“We have a restaurant downtown that has reservations for 500 people – mostly couples – spread out over two sittings for NYE,” Tostenson said. “The second sitting starts at 8 p.m., and now they are calling guests to get everyone to come in an hour earlier. That won’t work with a lot of guests, so we can see as many as 50% cancelling. If you consider an average of $100 per table – and that’s a pretty light NYE bill – you have just cancelled about $25,000 in sales at just one restaurant.
“If we kept alcohol sales open until 9 p.m., that same restaurant would have been able to retain roughly 80% of their business on that night. That’s how simple it was with just a one-hour difference; but Dr. Henry doesn’t know that because she doesn’t run restaurants. Had we collaborated with Dr. Henry, we would have been able to explain it to her.”
Henry, for her part, said the 8 p.m. time is set in stone.
“Food is perfectly fine, but last call needs to be at 8 o’clock,” she said. “… What we are concerned about is the people who want to stay out later and consume alcohol – which leads to behaviours that would put restaurants and other patrons at risk.”
Tostenson remains miffed, however, that no one from Henry’s office or the province gave the industry any direct contact – even on Wednesday, the day of the announcement. With Henry noting she is already eyeing potential issues with upcoming gathering dates like St. Patrick’s Day, Tostenson said what happened this time cannot happen again.
“Unless you want the entire industry to go insolvent, you can’t have 24-hour decisions going forward,” he said. “If we had a chance to consult with the province weeks ahead of time, Dr. Henry may have still said it has to be an 8 p.m. deadline. In that case, we can at least tell people that – for reasons that we understand – the industry will comply. And that still gives us two or three weeks to plan.
“Now, things are in chaos. We fully support the health objectives, and we’ve always supported Dr. Henry. But this could have all been avoided by simple consultation with an industry that’s determined to do the right thing.”
UK variant of COVID-19 on cusp of community spread, says top doctor in hard-hit Simcoe Muskoka region – Brampton Guardian
U.K. variant of COVID-19 on cusp of community spread, says top doctor in hard-hit Simcoe Muskoka region – Toronto Star
Simcoe Muskoka’s top public health official warned Tuesday that travel within Ontario should be restricted and school reopenings could falter if community transmission of extra-contagious COVID-19 viral variants takes hold — a reality that may be already be underway after a rash of new positive results.
Samples collected from 99 more people in the region screened positive for a “variant of concern,” the health unit said Tuesday. Two of those cases have no known links to the devastating outbreak at Barrie’s Roberta Place nursing home, where the presence of the U.K. variant was confirmed Saturday in six swabs.
Since then, a total of three cases in Simcoe Muskoka with no links to Roberta Place have tested positive for variants — two of which are involved in separate outbreaks, one at a different nursing home and one at a psychiatric hospital. Full genome sequencing will confirm the variant involved, but the health unit said it expects all to be more instances of the U.K. variant, known scientifically as B.1.1.7, which researchers have calculated is about 50 per cent more transmissible than pre-existing viral strains.
“If it isn’t spreading readily in our community now, it may very well do so in the near future,” Dr. Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka’s medical officer of health, said in a Tuesday press briefing.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch was more blunt: “The horse is out of the barn. We already have community transmission.
“It just means we have to double down on our efforts to keep this virus under control, and vaccinate as swiftly as possible,” said Bogoch, a member of the province’s vaccine task force.
The 99 new cases were identified through a point-prevalence study being conducted by Public Health Ontario, which is analyzing all positive COVID-19 test results from last Wednesday, Jan. 20, for the three known variants of concern, a single-day snapshot that will help establish a baseline for how the variants have spread.
As of Tuesday, 47 cases of B.1.1.7 have been confirmed in Ontario through full genome sequencing, according to data from Public Health Ontario — a count that doesn’t include preliminary screening results, including the 99 from Simcoe Muskoka, for which full sequences are not yet available. Variants of concern from Brazil and South Africa have not yet been reported in the province.
Gardner also said Tuesday that 42 household contacts of people linked to Roberta Place have tested positive for COVID-19, in addition to 127 residents, 82 staff, and six essential caregivers and “external partners.” Forty-six deaths have been reported at the home. Recent evidence from the U.K. suggests that besides being more transmissible, the B.1.1.7 variant may be somewhat more lethal, although that finding is debated by experts.
While the outbreak at the home itself may be receding, “the bigger picture … is transmission in the households of staff, and out into the community,” Gardner said. “And to me, we’re at the beginning of that. We’ve got to do all we can to slow that down.”
Another case of B.1.1.7 was identified in the Kingston region in a person who had travelled to Simcoe Muskoka but had not travelled outside the country, according to a health unit spokesperson. The person tested positive for COVID-19 “several weeks ago” but was only identified as a B.1.1.7 case on Monday.
Gardner and Bogoch both said provincial policies focused on international travellers — whether in the form of which cases get prioritized for variant screening, or in the form of stronger border controls — were likely to now be insufficient measures on their own.
“Additional measures at the border might provide some further incremental protection, and it might slow down the introduction of more of this (variant), or other variants,” Bogoch said. “But this is already here, and it’s circulating.”
Any additional measures at the borders shouldn’t distract the province from keeping transmission under control within its borders, Bogoch said, including focusing on the “huge” equity-related issues of infection risk.
“There’s no magic, right? We know how to control this,” adding that evidence shows COVID-19 vaccines are still effective against the U.K. variant.
Gardner said that in addition to strict adherence to the province’s current stay-at-home order, he believes Ontario needs more stringent controls on travel between jurisdictions — measures he acknowledges would be unpopular, but were used successfully in Australia.
“I think that movement in the population is a problem … I’ve long advocated that there needs to be some form of restrictions. You’ve got a lot of transmission happening between jurisdictions,” said Gardner, a member of the province’s public health measures table, which provides advice to government.
While cases are currently dropping in Ontario, Gardner warned that B.1.1.7 could quickly overwhelm those gains — and if the variant causes case counts to spike, “it would make it difficult to open schools again. There would be a lot of concern about the wisdom of that.”
He also expressed frustration over vaccine supply. While the health unit has visited every long-term-care facility to provide first doses, plans to vaccinate all retirement homes in the region had to be scuttled because of low supply, with only high-priority retirement homes receiving doses.
“It’s a worrying situation. It’s far better if you can to slow and contain this from spreading widely, if possible.”
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday – North Island Gazette
B.C. reported 407 new cases of COVID-19 province-wide on Tuesday, maintaining a steady rate of infection spread that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry warns is still too high.
The situation in long-term care continues to improve, with no new outbreaks as public health officials focus their remaining supplies of available vaccines on senior facilities and front-line health care workers. There were 14 more deaths reported Tuesday, with 313 people in hospital, 71 in intensive care.
Of the new cases, 169 were discovered in the Fraser Health region, which has seen a significant decline in infections in the past few weeks. There were 124 new cases in the Vancouver Coastal region, 54 in Interior Health, 38 in Northern Health and 22 on Vancouver Island.
Like other provinces, B.C. is running low on vaccine as Pfizer expands its production facility in Belgium. Henry reported Monday that the time between doses will be extended to 42 days for some people to allow public health officials to focus the remaining vaccines on hand to complete long-term care immunizations. Available vaccine is also being reserved to deal with coronavirus outbreaks in acute-care wards.
There have been more than 122,000 doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine administered in B.C., with seniors in the community prioritized once long-term care and assisted living residents and staff have some protection from the novel coronavirus.
“The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 is much higher than we want it to be,” Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a statement Jan. 26. “We are asking for everyone’s help to bend our curve back down. This is especially critical with the presence of variant viruses in our province.”
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