Canadian hotels are tightening up their cleaning protocols and hoping to welcome some pandemic-fatigued guests desperate to get out of the house for a few days this summer.
Last Thursday, the Hotel Association of Canada and the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) released joint health and safety protocols to help the industry adapt to new pandemic standards.
“We felt it was important to have a North American guideline at a time when both of our economies are reopening,” said Susie Grynol, president of the Hotel Association of Canada.
“These enhanced protocols might include [more frequent disinfecting] of common touch surfaces like door handles, light switches, remote controls, faucets. And in a room where we have surfaces that are difficult to clean, like throw pillows, bedspreads, the pen and pad of paper, the magazines — some of these items might be removed altogether.”
The industry is trying to find ways to reopen safely after being pummelled by cratering revenue and massive layoffs since the pandemic began.
“We had a large percentage of hotels that did shut down across the country in a matter of 10 days. We laid off 80 per cent of our workforce, which represents north of 250,000 job losses,” said Grynol.
Brookstreet is a Canadian-owned and independently-run hotel in western Ottawa. Before the pandemic started, it had 340 employees; it has since reduced its staff complement to 19. As the hotel prepares for a planned reopening on June 1, it has been slowly bringing staff members back.
“We hope to get back to about 60 employees and then we’ll continue to grow as services come back online,” said Nyle Kelly, Brookstreet’s general manager.
Brookstreet has 276 rooms and 30,000 square feet of meeting space. Its average occupancy in normal times is 75 per cent; Kelly said it’s expected to operate at less than 5 per cent capacity for at least the next two months.
“I see tumbleweeds flowing through the lobby,” he said. “It’s quiet. It’s a little eerie, I guess, to see the hotel empty like this.”
Kelly said the hotel sector has been crippled by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be one of the last sectors to fully recover — because many hotels rely on renting out spaces for meetings and nobody’s in a hurry to arrange meetings right now.
“We don’t expect that part of the business to come back for quite a long time. So everything from trade shows to corporate conferences, to weddings, to galas, to fundraising type events — that’s all pretty much cancelled,” he said. “It hurts us massively because that also represents a lot of our guest room bookings too, as they’re associated with the conferences and banquet business.”
And not all of the pandemic’s effects on the hospitality industry will be short-term, he said.
“We are also going to see a major impact on business travel,” he said. “I think people are changing the way they do things. People will start doing more video calls and those types of things. So we’ll see less business travel moving forward.”
Brookstreet only has a handful of reservations for the month of June. It’s already making preparations for those few guests.
“Even before you arrive at the hotel, we’re going to have new technology to allow a guest to check in over their devices. They’ll have their keys emailed to them in advance,” said Kelly, adding that guests can open room locks with their phones. “They touch their lock and they can go directly to their room.”
New rules for cleaning
Rooms at Brookstreet will stay empty for 48 hours at a time, he said. While empty, they will be cleaned, disinfected and inspected before accepting another guest.
The Hotel Association of Canada is recommending that, unless a guest requests otherwise, rooms be cleaned only once per stay — when the guest checks out — to limit possible exposure for housekeeping staff.
The joint health and safety protocols also recommend the installation of acrylic shields at hotel front desks, the provision of personal protective equipment to staff as required, clear social distancing markers on floors and sanitation stations in all public areas.
When restaurants in hotels are ready to open again, they’ll have to find ways to maintain physical distancing. Brookstreet is cutting the number of available tables in its restaurant by half; other facilities are spacing tables out. Some hotels will continue delivering room service by leaving the food at the guest’s door.
Many hotels, Brookstreet included, are also purchasing electrostatic sprayers for disinfectant.
Along with more frequent cleaning, mobile check in/key technology and the installation of UV lights at the entrance to disinfect keys and phones, the Novotel Toronto Centre has also purchased bedlifts to help housekeeping staff clean underneath beds.
The Hotel Association of Canada says all of these extra precautions represent a heavy cost for an already ailing industry. It’s calling on the government for financial help.
“One of our key recommendations to the government is that there would be forgivable portions of the loans that have been made available for amounts that have been paid toward capital investments to keep people safe,” Grynol said.
Stage 3 of Ontario's COVID-19 reopening plan looms nearer – CBC.ca
The chances of large parts of Ontario moving soon to Stage 3 of the province’s COVID-19 reopening plan are looking bright as the spread of the coronavirus remains slow in most public health units.
It’s been nearly three weeks since all of eastern and northern Ontario, as well as much of the southwestern part of the province, advanced to Stage 2. That allowed the opening of shopping malls, hair salons, swimming pools, and bar and restaurant patios.
Data from those 24 public health units — everywhere but the Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton, Niagara, Windsor-Essex, Lambton and Haldimand-Norfolk — show the spread of the virus remains largely contained.
“We hope to be able to move into the next stage as soon as possible,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Tuesday.
“It’s looking very good, but we still need another week’s data to really inform the situation, and then decisions will be made about the opening of Stage 3.”
More than half of Ontario’s 34 public health units currently have fewer than 10 active cases (coronavirus cases that are considered to still be infectious). Fifteen health units have three or fewer active cases.
The parts of the province that were first to advance to Stage 2 — including Ottawa, Waterloo Region and London — have a combined population of nearly six million. In these areas, since restrictions were eased on June 12:
- The combined number of new cases daily has averaged 27, down from a daily average of 34 in the four preceding weeks.
- The number of new cases reported daily has remained below 35 on all but one day.
The trend in the daily number of new cases is the statistic watched most closely by health officials in determining whether restrictions can be lifted.
Provincial-level discussions are currently happening about when to announce Stage 3, Elliott said. She said the decisions to be made include which parts of the province would move ahead and which measures would be relaxed.
“We have to do it safely,” Premier Doug Ford said. “We will do it safely, and we’re going to do it in steps as we did before. We just have to continue seeing the numbers go in the right direction.”
Provincial officials have said any announcements about progressing to the next stage would be made on Mondays.
An announcement on Stage 3 could come within the next week or so, according to Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, medical officer of health for eastern Ontario. He told a videoconference with reporters on Tuesday that officials are looking at increasing the maximum size of gatherings and allowing customers inside restaurants.
Specific Stage 3 changes not yet clear
The province has not laid out precisely what changes will come in Stage 3 of the reopening. Its general framework released back in April suggested Stage 3 would mean “opening all workplaces responsibly” and “further relaxing the restrictions on public gatherings.”
Even with a move to Stage 3, mass gatherings such as concerts and spectator sports events would remain prohibited “for the foreseeable future,” the framework says.
Restrictions currently in place in Stage 2 that could be eased include the closure of playgrounds, the 10-person limit on social gatherings, and the ban on indoor seating at restaurants and bars.
While the daily number of new COVID-19 cases is a crucial metric for determining the timing of Stage 3, the other measures that are considered include the availability of hospitals beds, speed of testing, and effectiveness of tracing close contacts of each person who tests positive.
Some public health units see mandatory mask usage in indoor public settings as a key tool in preventing outbreaks and advancing to Stage 3.
“We want to move to Stage 3,” Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s chief medical officer of health, said while presenting evidence in favour of a mask policy during a news briefing on Monday. “We want all the businesses to be open. We want people to be able to continue to get back to work.”
The public health unit covering Kingston — which previously had among the lowest number of COVID-19 cases in the province — ordered masks to be worn in indoor public places in response to an outbreak at a nail salon that is now linked to 27 confirmed cases.
Mask wearing, handwashing likely to remain
The ability to prevent and contain local outbreaks will be one of the province’s considerations about whether a public health unit is ready to move to Stage 3, said Dr. Chris Mackie, the London-Middlesex medical officer of health.
The province is “watching the data carefully and not rushing into a Stage 3 reopening, which I think is appropriate,” Mackie said on Tuesday in a news conference.
The province will take the lead on the decisions about Stage 3, according to Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, medical officer of health for the Region of Waterloo, among the first public health units to advance to Stage 2.
“When we reach Stage 3, it is very likely that many of our current heath measures, such as physical distancing, mask wearing and handwashing, will remain in effect,” Wang said in a statement to CBC News.
Canada to ban 'nuisance seals' killing to keep access to U.S. market – CBC.ca
Canada will abolish permits that allow the killing of “nuisance seals” by commercial fishermen and aquaculture in an effort to maintain access to the lucrative U.S. seafood market, CBC News has learned.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada plans to eliminate nuisance-seal licences. Earlier this spring, the department told commercial fisheries associations that nuisance permits will no longer be issued. Canadian fish farms voluntarily stopped killing seals in 2018.
“DFO is making this change in order to ensure continued access to the U.S. fish and seafood market, a market worth about $5 billion annually to Canada,” DFO spokesperson Benoit Mayrand said.
By Jan. 1, 2022, all countries with fisheries interacting with marine mammals that export to the U.S. will have to demonstrate they have marine mammal protections that are the same or of comparable effectiveness to measures taken in the U.S..
DFO intends to adopt regulatory language aligned with the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act’s import provisions, Mayrand said.
Scotland also banning practice
The U.S. exempts killing marine mammals under specific circumstances, such as where it is imminently necessary to protect human health and safety, and under the Good Samaritan exemption, where the humane dispatch of a seal will avoid serious injury, additional injury, or death to a seal entangled in fishing gear or debris.
DFO said it will post its plans for public comment in coming weeks.
Earlier this month, Scotland announced it will eliminate permits to shoot nuisance seals. Scotland is also keenly aware that market access is at stake.
Mairi Gougeon, the Scottish minister responsible for that portfolio, told the Scottish parliament that its new rules will match the U.S. rules.
“It will ensure that we can still export farmed fish to the United States of America in future. That is one of our most important markets; it was worth £178 million (about $301 million) in 2019,” she said on June 17.
Canada’s aquaculture industry already on board
Tim Kennedy, president and CEO of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, wrote to DFO in a letter dated Dec. 21, 2018.
“The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance would like to state our members’ commitment to ‘no intentional mammal kill’ practices in our seafood farming operations within Canada. We maintain an exception for the very rare possibility of the endangerment of human health, as per the exception in the MMPA legislation,” Kennedy wrote.
The association says it represents 95 per cent Canadian fish farms and shellfish operations.
“This was quite a major step of the Canadian industry to move forward and make this commitment because the population of seals on the East Coast and sea lions on the West Coast have really increased dramatically,” Kennedy told CBC News.
He said producers are now using steel-hardened nets to keep seals out.
‘A critical market issue’
About 80 per cent of the Atlantic salmon grown in Canada gets exported to the U.S..
“This is a critical market-access issue. So with the time being right and with the industry moving in this direction anyway, the formalization of the commitment, I think, made a lot of sense,” Kennedy said.
DFO says in 2018, 66 seals were reported killed under nuisance-seal licences in Atlantic Canada. In 2019, 95 were reported killed.
But that may be an underestimation of how many are killed by fishermen.
On the East Coast, huge grey seal colonies are often blamed by commercial fishermen for the slow recovery of groundfish stocks.
In a 2016 assessment of the grey seal population, DFO scientists estimated a total of 3,732 grey seals were killed in the region — but that number came with a caveat.
“Nuisance-seal licences are issued to fishermen that report seals causing damage to fishing gear or catches,” said DFO’s assessment. “They are required to report the number of seals they have removed, but most fishermen do not provide this information.”
A nuisance-seal licence is different from a commercial-harvest seal licence and the proposed amendments will have no impacts on the directed seal harvest, DFO said.
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