With the imminent reopening of bars and restaurants in Toronto, the city’s mayor is calling for added public-health measures in food and drink establishments across the city, including midnight last calls, additional capacity limits and mandatory masks.
Mayor John Tory outlined a total of six measures in a letter he sent to Ontario Premier Doug Ford this past weekend.
Indoor bars and dining spaces reopened in 24 out of Ontario’s 34 regions last Friday, launching Stage 3 of the province’s reopening. But Toronto and some other areas – Niagara, Haldimand-Norfolk, Lambton and Windsor-Essex – are still waiting on the province to be able to leave Stage 2.
Rising concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in restaurants and bars that have reopened in other parts of the country and the world have pushed officials to demand stricter public-health measures during this phase of economic reopening.
Mr. Tory wants food and drink establishments in Toronto to further limit their capacity in order to ensure physical distancing can be respected. He also asks that face coverings be made mandatory for all staff and patrons. Patrons would have to remain seated at all times inside restaurants and bars, unless they are entering or exiting the space, using the bathroom or paying for their services.
Additionally, Mr. Tory would like the province to impose early closing times on establishments – a midnight last call – “for at least a period of time.”
The mayor also wants restaurants to maintain a client log that includes the name and contact information of one member of a party, the date and time of their visit, and their table number. These logs would be kept for 30 days, and be accessible to public-health officials for contact tracing purposes, if necessary. The letter also calls for restaurants and bars to create screening protocols for all staff ahead of their shifts.
These measures are part of Toronto Public Health guidelines, but Mr. Tory is asking to see them added to the province’s legal regulation for Stage 3 reopening in Toronto, adding that “the province may want to include other large jurisdictions as well.”
“I believe ensuring these are requirements rather than recommendations will help ensure compliance and, ultimately, protect the health of our residents,” Mr. Tory wrote in the letter, expressing concern about spikes in COVID-19 cases after the reopening of bars and restaurants in Quebec, Alberta, the United States and South Korea.
In an e-mailed statement, the Ontario Premier’s office said it appreciates the City of Toronto’s advice and that it will “continue to work directly with them as we evaluate when the region may be ready to safely enter Stage 3.”
“Our top priority is the health and safety of all Ontarians,” the statement added.
Samantha Hill, president of the Ontario Medical Association, called the suggested measures a “real attempt to try and balance the risk between health and economy” ahead of Stage 3 reopenings provincewide.
Some Toronto restaurant owners say they understand the need for public-health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but worry the restrictions will further hurt the hospitality industry.
“Generally we all want to do our part to make sure that we get through this pandemic,” said George Kakaletris, owner of Union Social Eatery in Toronto. But he worries the industry is “being focused on a little too much,” while health risks also exist in industries such as retail, he said.
Mr. Kakaletris also worries officials are imposing more restrictions than they are providing support measures for restaurants and bars, who have lost significant revenue despite reopening their patios in June.
“You can reduce the numbers [of patrons] inside, but will you reduce hydro? Will you reduce taxes? Will you help us with more patio space outdoors?” Mr. Kakaletris asked. “It just seems very short-sighted to talk about one part of a business or just one industry in general and not come up with recommendations to help on the other side.”
Cesar Mesen, operating manager of The Pint Public House in downtown Toronto, said his sports bar can usually welcome up to 1,000 guests, but that it has limited its capacity to 200 patrons because of physical-distancing measures.
In June, 2019, the restaurant made nearly $600,000 in profit, he said. Last month, his restaurant made about $11,000. Mr. Tory’s recommendation for earlier closing of restaurants is worrisome for Mr. Mesen.
“Capping last call at midnight, that’s two hours of business,” he said. “Those are two pretty profitable hours so that would definitely hurt us, on top of reducing our capacity to such extent.”
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