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Coronavirus: B.C. faces first weekend under Phase 2 of COVID-reopening plan

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British Columbians taking advantage of Phase 2 restart. – May 23, 2020

It’s the first weekend since B.C. entered Phase 2 of its COVID-19 reopening plan, and businesses are finding their feet as more British Columbians venture out.

Restaurants are now permitted to operate at half capacity, and customers have begun to flock to patios — which are being touted as a safer alternative to eating inside.

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“Ultimately it’s about how guests feel when they’re in here,” said Ogi Radoicic, general manger of Bufala Edgemont in North Vancouver.

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“Walking around Vancouver and seeing restaurants that have already opened and have their patios — Vancouver diners are looking forward to getting back to it.”

Radoicic said Bufala has followed directions from health officials and the restaurant industry association and installed plexiglass, measured the distance between its tables and implemented new safety protocols for staff.

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They’re also operating at 50 per cent capacity, and have posted their pandemic safety plans online for the public to see.

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Radoicic says the business has been getting regular questions about when it will resume dine-in service, and the restaurant sector can bounce back if it earns people’s trust.

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“As long as guests see the amount of diligence and care we’re putting into it … they’ll see we’re looking out for safety, number one,” he said.

But there will be major challenges for the sector.

Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association (BCRFA), says operating at 50 per cent capacity may get some cash flow moving, but is not economically successful for almost any restaurant.

He says it will still be another week or so until many businesses even reopen their doors.

“There’s a lot of preparation they have to do, hiring staff, getting supplies, plexiglass, masks, all the things they have to do to make sure the public is safe, their employees are safe,” he said.

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Tostenson said provincial moves to fast-track patio approvals will be a major factor in keeping businesses afloat.

He estimated the regulatory changes could slash a months-long permit process down to days.

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“This is down to hours, not weeks, not days,” he said. “Every restaurant has hours to try and make it back. We’re going to lose a lot of restaurants over this.”

Barbers and salons around the province have been busy all week since provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry lifted her order shuttering personal services businesses.

Henry herself even went for a cut, she said Saturday.

“It’s been a bit of a transition,” said Henry.

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“We wore masks, and we went through the whole process and it takes a little bit of adjusting. But I think we’re doing it in a slow and measured way and I’m grateful for people taking that approach.”

Greg Robins, executive director of the Beauty Council of Western Canada, said many salons are operating at between 50 and 75 per cent and have been taking things “deliberately slow.”

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“There’s extra cleaning time that has to happen, there’s all the physical distancing that is required,” he said.

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“It’s going to be very difficult for this to be a long-term slowdown. Many salons are operating on a slim margin as it is, perhaps 80 to 90 per cent is as slow as they can go, and after that we are going to see an increase in pricing or perhaps a COVID surcharge.”

At her Saturday briefing, Henry said it will be another full week at minimum before the province has a good sense of whether the loosening of restrictions will result in a spike in new cases.

Until the province has that data, she said, current pandemic protocols will stay in place.

But she said early indications are that British Columbians are taking things seriously.

“I was out for a walk last night and people were following the rules, they were keeping their distance,” she said.

“People were outside, enjoying each other’s company from a distance in a safe way, I think things are going mostly really well.”