Canada

Ottawa restaurants and bars cry foul about closures in light of new provincial outbreak numbers

Ottawa’s restaurants and bar owners were livid Friday after learning they were closed by the province on Oct. 10 although just three COVID-19 outbreaks accounting for two per cent of Ottawa’s 189 total outbreaks since Aug. 1 were traced to them.

However, Ottawa Public Health said Friday the provincial information is only “part of the picture of COVID-19” in the city.

I’m all for being part of the community and understanding that COVID is deadly, and we have to do our part and take our lumps,” said Ron Shrybman, owner of the Elgin Street Diner. “But when you’re ruining an entire industry, all because of two or three cases in an industry, that’s insane to me. It’s proven with their own numbers we’re not the problem.”

Just as the Thanksgiving weekend began, the province banned indoor dining for 28 days in Ontario’s pandemic hot zones — Toronto, Ottawa and Peel. The ban is to be revisited at the end of next week.

However, provincial data released this week showed that in Toronto, the number of COVID-19 outbreaks in restaurants and bars were much more significant than in Ottawa. Toronto saw 27 outbreaks in restaurants and bars accounting for 14 per cent of the city’s outbreaks, while in Ottawa there were three outbreaks in restaurants and bars, accounting for two per cent of all outbreaks. Ottawa Public Health defines an outbreak as an epidemiological link of COVID-19 transmission between two or more people within a 14-day period associated to the same site or setting or exposure.

However, OPH noted Friday the province’s information “illustrates just part of the picture of COVID-19 in Ottawa,” and was limited in time and to outbreaks only, while OPH investigations have found “that people testing positive for COVID-19 report visiting or working in bars, restaurants and fitness facilities while infectious.”

OPH also noted the data didn’t elaborate on outbreak size or severity, “nor did it account for household or unknown transmission sources (which are significant across the province), or other important indictors.”

The provincial figures are “great for us as a reminder that we are doing great. But it is also really frustrating to see that we were bunched in to closures without real merit,”saidCélia Lemieux, co-founder ofOrléans Brewing Company, whose tap room on Innes Road has been shut for almost three weeks.

Lemieux, Shrybman and others noted they had spent thousands of dollars on Plexiglas screening and sanitizing products while ensuring that staff and guests followed pandemic protocols, only to be forced to close.

“We have been operating in a safe manner right from March,” said Gillian Martin, general manager of Mongolian Village West in Bells Corners. While her restaurant used to have customers assemble their own meals from a bar of ingredients, it adapted to COVID-19 by having customers check off their desired ingredients on pieces of paper, Martin said.

She took from the outbreak numbers that Ottawa’s restaurants had been targeted unfairly. “I thought there would be more outbreaks,” Martin said.

At a Friday press conference, Ontario Premier Doug Ford defended his government’s decision to impose the modified Stage 2 restrictions, saying they were necessary at the time and have proven effective. But they were never intended to be long-term solutions, said Ford.

Furthermore, Martin and Shrybman complained they’ve heard nothing more about the provincial government’s promised $300 million to help pay the fixed costs of businesses that were forced to close.

“How do I get it? How do I access it?” asked Shrybman. “We don’t need help in a month. We need help today. Payroll, taxes, hydro — these expenses need to be paid.”

He said that while his almost-three-decades-old restaurant had previously flourished, it also had to weather the closure in 2019 of Elgin Street due to construction. “I’m very close to running out of money,” Shrybman said.

He cannot imagine the difficulties he and other eateries will face if the ban on indoor dining is extended.

“I am hoping that some common sense is applied,” Shrybman said. “If we get extended for another 28 days, the independents, including myself, are on a very thin ledge.”

Ford said that based on the latest evidence, he’s asked health officials to come up with a plan “to begin to ease restrictions in a way that safely allows businesses to start opening back up after the 28-day period is over.”

phum@postmedia.com

Ottawa’s COVID-19 outbreaks of between Aug. 1 and Oct. 24

Schools and daycare: 74 (39 per cent)
Long-term care and retirement homes: 63 (33 per cent)
Congregate settings: 13 (7 per cent)
Healthcare: 12 (6 per cent)
Other: 11 (6 per cent)
Gyms and sports: 9 (5 per cent)
Restaurants and Bars: 3 (2 per cent)
Grocery Retail and Service 2 (1 per cent)
Events, ceremonies and religious services 2 (1 per cent)

Total outbreaks: 189

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