Restaurateurs and retailers in Ottawa feel the timing and justification of Ontario’s provicewide shutdowns are unfair to local business owners trying to make ends meet before the end of what’s already been a difficult year.
Premier Doug Ford announced Monday that Ottawa and the rest of the province would be placed in a COVID-19 lockdown starting Dec. 26. The restrictions will see businesses limited to curbside pickup or delivery options for 28 days in Ottawa and the rest of southern Ontario, but only 14 days in the north.
Ford said the lockdown was necessary because the province’s hospitals are overwhelmed by people with COVID-19, with intensive care units at capacity. The situation in Toronto, Peel and the rest of the GTA is different from Ottawa, however, where infection rates have stabilized and ICUs are empty of COVID-19 patients.
The level of coronavirus stabilized in Ottawa after a modified 28-day lockdown in October and early November.
Business owners now say they’re being targeted again, despite the city’s numbers improving.
“It’s a little bit of a kick in the gut,” says Sarah Chown, managing partner at Metropolitan Brasserie in downtown Ottawa.
“We’ve been doing really hard work here in Ottawa to get our numbers in line and working with the city and making sure we’re going above and beyond the provincial regulations here, and to have us shut down now for 28 days is going to be tough on a lot of people.”
Dennis Van Staalduinen, executive director of the Wellington West Business Improvement Area, says businesses in his neighbourhood accepted the October lockdown because Ottawa’s case numbers were spiking at the time and it was clear stricter measures were needed.
But the latest lockdowns coming when things are relatively calm in the nation’s capital but worsening to the south goes back to a “one-size-fits-all” approach that doesn’t recognize Ottawa’s success, he says.
“There’s no credit being given for the businesses who did creative things to protect public health and keep their businesses going.”
One of the reasons Ford cited to justify including Ottawa in the lockdown is the risk the city would face of increased visits from other regions of the province or from Gatineau, which sits just across the Ottawa River in Quebec’s red zone.
But the business owners who spoke to Global News say they’ve been seeing visitors from over the provincial border for months and it hasn’t been an issue.
“Gatineau has been in the red zone for months and we have not seen an increase, that influx from Quebec,” Van Staalduinen says, noting that Wellington West sits close by the Champlain Bridge across the river.
Chown, too, says her staff has taken contact tracing numbers from Gatineau and even Toronto in the past few months but that the public health precautions in place have helped the Metropolitan Brasserie mitigate any risk.
“I think the big problem is really the social gatherings in households and sadly I think those will continue,” Chown says.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson came down against the restrictions as well on Monday, stating that the city has seen “no evidence” that a gap in restrictions across the National Capital Region will lead to a “spike” in visitors from Gatineau.
The timing is one of the biggest issues that business owners have with the shutdowns.
While Van Staalduinen says the extra few days before the lockdown goes into effect will be beneficial to his retailers to capitalize on the pre-Christmas rush, Boxing Week is integral for many businesses to end the year on a high note.
“Boxing Week is typically when businesses go from the red to the black,” he says.
As business owners followed Ottawa’s infection trend lines, many of them felt comfortable making investments to end the year with a bang, Van Staalduinen says.
This includes spending on portable heaters and outdoor dining facilities, which Chown says will now sit unused during the lockdowns.
Chown says her restaurant will have to cancel its New Year’s Eve reservations and only hopes customers will stick with takeout service on Dec. 31.
She adds that the lockdown could mean a third round of layoffs for her employees this year alone as businesses adapt to varying levels of service restrictions amid the pandemic.
Watson said he hopes the Ford government will reconsider including Ottawa in the lockdown or consider reducing the restrictions to 14 days, in line with northern Ontario. Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, has also supported limiting the lockdown.
The difference between 14 days and 28 days could be pivotal for businesses, Van Staalduinen says, but any year-end lockdown will make an impact on their bottom lines.
“A 14-day lockdown is going to be very difficult for our businesses, but a 28-day lockdown could be fatal,” he says.
— With files from Global News’s Mike Le Couteur
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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