Concern as Ontario announces new measures to curb spread of Omicron

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As the province plans to return Ontario to a modified Step 2 of its COVID-19 reopening plan starting Wednesday, there are concerns locally about how the new measures will impact businesses, low-income workers and others.


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The measures, which Ontario Premier Doug Ford says are aimed at blunting a surge in Omicron cases and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed as the province accelerates its booster dose rollout, include requiring gyms and theatres to temporarily close, a ban on in-person dining and 50 per cent capacity limits for retail settings.

They are to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and remain in place for at least 21 days.

Steve Harris, president of the Saugeen Shores Chamber of Commerce and owner of Ristorante Rosina in Port Elgin, said it will be difficult for many businesses to remain open once the new restrictions lift if the provincial and federal governments do not step up with additional financial support.

“We believe these restrictions will have one of the greater impacts on the ability of businesses to survive and, in addition, employees to remain above board with their ability to live and cover costs,” he said Monday afternoon.

Diane Austin, CEO of the Owen Sound & District Chamber of Commerce, said based on earlier conversations she’s had with area business owners, she thinks the latest measures will be devastating for many local businesses.

“It is disheartening and sad news. I hate to see that any business will have to close, especially gyms, restaurants and hospitality centres as they have been the hardest hit,” she said.

“The 50 per cent capacity for retail is not ideal. I am afraid this will impact the small businesses even more. The mom and pop shops are the heart of our communities.”


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Ford announced during a Monday morning press conference that Ontario will be moving to Step 2 of its Roadmap to Reopen, while delaying the restart of in-person learning in schools.

Students will begin remote learning Wednesday with a return to classrooms postponed until at least Jan. 17, subject to public health trends and operational considerations.

Ford said Ontario is facing a “tsunami of new cases” of the Omicron variant in the weeks and months ahead and, as a result, the prospect of more hospitalizations than the current health care system can handle.

“Omicron spreads like wildfire. It only takes the smallest opportunity to infect and if we don’t act, if we don’t do everything possible to get this variant under control, the results can be catastrophic. It’s a risk I cannot take,” he said.

Step 2 of the Roadmap to Reopen also includes a limit on social gatherings of five people indoors and 10 people outdoors.

Capacity will be limited to only five people for organized indoor public events and 50 per cent for indoor weddings, funerals and religious services as well as retail settings, including shopping malls, personal care services and public libraries.

The province is also prohibiting indoor dining at restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments and forcing the temporary closure of theatres, cinemas, galleries and gyms.

Brandon McMillen, owner and CEO of Velocity Sports Performance and Fitness, said Wednesday will mark the fifth time since the pandemic began that he will be forced to temporarily shutter his gym on Owen Sound’s east side.


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He said his main concern is how the mandatory closure of fitness facilities will impact peoples’ mental health.

“I also teach a little bit at the college and we do physical fitness and mental health combined and a lot of the topics that get brought up are how physical fitness is helping with mental health. It’s one of the main reasons that people come to the gym — not just for physical fitness, but it’s certainly the mental health aspect is a big portion of that. And a lot of people are struggling with that and I think it’s just going to get worse and worse,” he said.

“It’s a slippery slope because I understand what they’re trying to do, but I think they need to look at some other aspects because it doesn’t look like we’re getting out of this anytime soon.”

Gyms, like Velocity, have had to be closed for the equivalent of about one year since the pandemic began, he said.

In mid-December, the province introduced 50 per cent capacity limits for a variety of indoor public settings, including gyms, as part of its response to the Omicron variant.

McMillen said Velocity will be able to pivot to online training programs during the closure.

“It’s good, but it’s still not the same,” he said. “I have a lot of clients who aren’t even doing this training with me for only the fitness part of things. A lot of people come in just for the socialization part of things and being able to see people. Right now is a tough time because a lot of people are isolated, so this is a good outing for them.”


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Francesca Dobbyn, executive director of the United Way of Bruce Grey, said she’s “extremely concerned” about how the Step 2 measures — including the closure of in-person dining and capacity limits on retail settings — will impact low-wage earners.

The measures come days after the province ended the rent freeze in Ontario and months after it lifted a ban on evictions.

“People who work these precarious jobs will have their hours cut and then how do they continue to pay the bills when rent is often 80 to 90 per cent of their take-home pay to begin with. So there are a lot of concerns there,” she said.

Ontario’s COVID-19 sick pay program requires employers to provide employees with up to three paid days off, yet isolation periods are either five or 10 days depending on the person’s vaccination status, she said.

Getting groceries delivered during an isolation period is impossible for many people, as it costs extra and requires a credit card, she said.

Meanwhile, the cost of groceries is “through the roof,” she said, inflation is impacting everyone and no increases have been approved for people on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

“As with all of these things, it really impacts those without the resources the most,” she said.

Dobbyn said she would have liked to have seen the province announce more supports for individuals who will be impacted by the latest measures.



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