TORONTO — Small businesses facing the prospect of keeping their doors closed for at least two more weeks expressed doubt on Saturday as to whether to ramp up their operations amid uncertainty over the province’s tentative COVID-19 reopening plan.
Some entrepreneurs in the Toronto area, which is expected to remain under strict lockdown even as other regions of the province begin to ease public health restrictions, said they’re struggling to determine whether it’s worth taking on the financial and emotional risks of reopening for business without more clarity from the provincial government.
Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce on Monday that the state of emergency declared last month will be allowed to expire as scheduled on Feb. 9, according to a senior government source with knowledge of the decision. A stay-at-home order will likely remain in effect as the government transitions regions back to a colour-coded restrictions system over three weeks, said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Toronto, Peel Region and York Region are expected to be the last to make that transition on the week of Feb. 22, but the source said any sudden increase in cases could delay that plan.
George Bozikis, who runs Hendriks Restaurant & Bar in downtown Toronto, said he cannot afford preparations to re-open on Feb. 22 if there is a chance the date could be pushed back.
Each time his location reopens, he says he must spend about $20,000 to get the 290-seat restaurant up and running in any capacity. The spending includes $10,000 on perishable food, much of which goes to waste if the restaurant must abruptly close again.
“Turning a profit isn’t even a question anymore. It’s, ‘Will we make enough money after we open to survive,'” Bozikis said in a telephone interview.
The government source has said Ontario will have an “emergency brake” in place to allow the government to quickly move a region into lockdown if it “experiences a rapid acceleration in COVID-19 transmission or if the health-care system becomes overwhelmed.”
Bozikis and other business owners said they fear the proposed plan doesn’t offer the ray of hope they’ve been seeking over the course of the pandemic. They said anything short of widespread vaccination, a mass return to office buildings and malls or a long-term “yellow” or “green” stage reopening plan may not restore a sense of safety for them or their livelihoods.
Alan Liu, who runs Toronto Thai eatery Salad King, said stopping and starting is the hardest part of keeping his business afloat at the moment.
“Our biggest concern is to make sure we open safely…. A premature start that may result in a closure and a few weeks would be incredibly challenging,” he said.
Liu says he’s hesitant to reopen anything other than the restaurant’s takeout business without more assurances from the province, noting the cycle of rehiring and laying off staff takes an emotional toll on all concerned.
Liu feels pressure to make staffing decisions quickly so that employees can make childcare arrangements and qualify for benefits as soon as possible.
“Number one for us, as business owners, is predictability. Jumping the gun and opening too early is not necessarily what’s best for the business,” Liu said.
Chris Rampen, co-owner of Bu’na coffee shop and Nunu Ethiopian, said health risks lie at the heart of his reluctance to fully reopen the business.
“At least from what the experts are telling us, we have to be extremely careful in the next little while, given these new variants that appear to be extremely contagious,” he said.
His fears resonate with Erin Gamelin, owner of Toronto pubs Louis Cifer Brew Works and Stout Irish Pub, as does frustration around the government’s approach to handling the pandemic.
Gamelin said many policies seem unpredictable and arbitrary, such as allowing big box stores and schools to remain open and setting the same cap on gatherings for both large and small restaurants.
“Closing down smaller businesses becomes a credibility issue when it doesn’t make logical sense,” she said. “Because there has been a lack of consistency of their decision-making and policy, I think that the general public has lost confidence in those decisions that they’re making.”
Ontario reported 1,388 cases of COVID-19 and 45 new deaths linked to the virus on Saturday.
The province said 1,021 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, with 325 in intensive care and 228 of those patients on a ventilator.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said there are 455 new cases in Toronto, 288 in Peel and 131 in York Region.
Steven Del Duca, Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, said on Saturday that Ford’s economic recovery plan must include financial support for small businesses in regions that can’t re-open.
“Doug Ford plans to announce the re-opening of Ontario’s economy … after weeks of putting Big Box lobbyists and Amazon first while local entrepreneurs suffered,” Del Duca said in a statement. “If he’s going to re-open the economy, he needs to let small businesses lead Ontario’s economic recovery.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2021
— With files from Shawn Jeffords.
Anita Balakrishnan, The Canadian Press
Ontario reports 1,200+ coronavirus cases; 28 more deaths – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Ontario reported 1,258 new cases of COVID-19 and 28 deaths on Friday, also marking the first day in four months where nobody in the long-term care system died of the disease.
Ontario reported 1,138 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 1,054 on Wednesday.
It’s the fourth straight day of increases in the province, as all but 3 of Ontario’s 34 public health units reopened non-essential retail, restaurants and fitness centres earlier this week.
The seven-day rolling average of cases now stands at 1,114, up from 1,098 on Thursday and 1,016 eight days ago.
The number of active cases rose for the second day in a row, to 10,294, still well below our January peak of more than 30,000 active infections.
All of the deaths reported on Friday occurred outside of the long-term care system, the first time that has happened in since Oct. 26. All long-term care residents in the province have received at least one dose of an approved coronavirus vaccine.
Across the GTA, there were 362 new cases in Toronto, 274 new cases in Peel, 104 new cases in York Region, 42 in Durham, 32 in Halton and 64 in Hamilton.
Provincial labs processed 64,049 specimens in the past 24 hours, generating a positivity rate of 2.3 per cent.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CP24 that Thursday’s modelling briefing, although cautiously optimistic, told us that things could still get drastically out of hand with our current daily case growth.
“It was a little more rosy, it does paint a little better picture, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” he said. “We’re still at 900-1,200 new cases per day here in Ontario, and if we do let our guard down, it will get out of control very quickly.”
Hospitalizations held flat according to official Ministry of Health statistics, which stated 683 people were in hospital, with 284 in intensive care and 193 breathing with the help of a ventilator.
But a Toronto ICU doctor citing Critical Care Services Ontario data said there were 333 patients with COVID-19 in intensive care across the province.
CPPIB CEO Mark Machin steps down after getting COVID-19 vaccine in UAE – Global News
Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) said on Friday Mark Machin had stepped down as CEO of the country’s largest pension fund after disclosing he recently traveled to the United Arab Emirates where he arranged to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
CPPIB said it had accepted Machin’s resignation and appointed John Graham as chief executive officer.
Canada’s Ministry of Finance on Thursday called a media report about Machin traveling to the Middle East and receiving a COVID-19 vaccination “very troubling”.
Machin was not immediately available for comment.
Machin, 54, received Pfizer’s vaccine shot after arriving in the UAE with his partner this month, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter.
Machin was named president and CEO in June 2016, according to the pension fund’s website.
(Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)
© 2021 Reuters
‘Think small, think local’: B.C. health officials advise against big spring break plans – Global News
British Columbia’s top doctor is advising people not to make big plans for the upcoming March break as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a threat.
Dr. Bonnie Henry says British Columbians will need to stay local during the annual pause from school. The province had previously indicated there would be encouragement to travel around the province if transmission numbers dropped.
Advice for what B.C. parents should do for March Break 2021?
“In terms of travel, right now as always, we need to stay local,” Henry said.
“And we’re going to be reassessing things as we move through the next weeks. And we will be talking more about March break and what we need to do in the coming days.”
Henry is pointing to the province’s rate of transmission, positivity rate and reproductive rate for why restrictions remain in place and why spring break travel is not being encouraged.
The seven-day rolling average for new COVID-19 cases was an average of 481.4 cases a day on February 24, a steady climb from the 432.1 daily average reported a week earlier.
The test positivity rate has also gone up, although not as dramatically. Two weeks ago, 6.2 per cent of all COVID-19 tests in the province came back positive, going up to 6.6 per cent last week and sitting at 6.7 per cent now.
What’s fueling the current spread of COVID-19 in B.C.?
The province could not provide specifics on the reproductive number — a key metric for measuring whether the pandemic is under control. Henry says it is over one, which means for every COVID-19 case in the province it is passed on to more than one person.
“In the last two weeks, we started to see (the reproductive number) move above the level of one, and what that means is that there is potential for rapid growth if we are not careful,” Henry said.
“It is like a tree that keeps growing and spreading. But we need to keep the cases low and slow so that we can control that.”
B.C. is working with other provincial governments to determine some national policies around the spring break. The province is also looking at how it can support British Columbians, particularly young people, to have safe opportunities with friends during the break.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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