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Halifax readies for sweeping coronavirus measures as cases trend upward

Click to play video '‘This is your wake-up call’: Nova Scotia premier announces 37 new COVID-19 cases' ‘This is your wake-up call’: Nova Scotia premier announces 37 new COVID-19 cases
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced on Tuesday that there were 37 new cases of the coronavirus in the province, the largest single-day increase since April 23. “If you haven't woken up to the second wave, this is your wake-up call,” McNeil said – Nov 24, 2020

HALIFAX – People and businesses in Halifax are coming to grips with a series of tougher restrictions set to take effect as the province attempts to curb a rise in COVID-19 infections.

Effective Thursday and for at least the next two weeks, there will be no in-person dining at restaurants, while public libraries, museums, gyms, yoga studios and casinos will close in Atlantic Canada’s largest city.

The province announced 16 new cases of novel coronavirus on Wednesday – all in the Halifax area and bringing the total number of active cases to 102 provincewide.

As a result, public gatherings will also be limited to five people, while retail stores will be required to limit the number of shoppers and staff to no more than 25 per cent of their legal capacity.

Read more: Nova Scotia reports 37 new cases of COVID-19, shuts down bars, gyms

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“Everybody’s supportive,” said Gordon Stewart, executive director of the Restaurants Association of Nova Scotia, who noted his industry group recommended on Monday that establishments in the city close their dining areas for two weeks.

Stewart said in an interview that although restaurants in the city have concerns about the financial hit of another indoor dining lockdown, association members understand temporary closures may be better than an alternative that involves more COVID-19 spread.

Restaurants and a range of other businesses that were initially closed in March reopened with restrictions in early June as the initial wave of infections in the province waned.

“The crippling of the food and beverage sector in many parts of Canada is really sad to see, and we want to avoid that,” Stewart said. “We know that it will depend upon us and other people closing to stop it for the second wave.”

Click to play video 'Restaurant industry shut down as N.S. enters second wave' Restaurant industry shut down as N.S. enters second wave
Restaurant industry shut down as N.S. enters second wave – Nov 24, 2020

The sentiment was echoed by Khalil Farah, owner of Orso Pub and Grill in downtown Halifax.

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Orso has been struggling over the last few months since much of the city’s workforce now works from home, cutting into the restaurant’s usual lunch and dinner crowds, Farah said.

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He said he expects the restrictions to last longer than the initial two-week period proposed by the province, but he added the precaution is necessary to stop the recent uptick in cases.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Farah said. “Saving lives is more important than business.”

Recent rises in cases have “spooked” customers and made dining out unsustainable in any case, said George Christakos, which is why he has already closed the dining rooms of the two establishments he owns, Battery Park Beer Bar and Eatery in Dartmouth and The Brooklyn Warehouse in the north end of Halifax.

Christakos said as restaurants in the Halifax area move to takeout dining only, he hopes residents of the region throw their support toward local eateries to help maintain the city’s restaurant culture.

“If we don’t have the independent businesses supported through this period, and more and more have to say they’re shut down, what are we left with?” Christakos asked.

Read more: Public Health advises on 21 new potential coronavirus exposure locations in HRM

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Meanwhile, some Haligonians have already taken to ordering food to back the city’s establishments.

Lucas Arab, a resident of Halifax, said he and his family enjoy the food options the city has to offer, so takeout has been the best option to show their support.

“It’s an unfortunate situation right now, but we’re trying our best to help everyone from afar,” he said.

The Atlantic chapter of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business called for a balanced approach to closures and lauded the province for not instituting a full lockdown in Halifax.

“We’re pleased Nova Scotia didn’t go the route of a full retail shutdown like Ontario and Manitoba or create an unlevel playing field between small and large (business),” Jordi Morgan, the CFIB’s vice president Atlantic, said in a news release.

Morgan urged caution around future restrictions, pointing out that the upcoming holiday season often determines whether a business will have a successful year.

“As they are already severely weakened . . . complete shutdown measures will deeply hurt many businesses at their most critical time, pushing many over the edge,” he said.

Also Wednesday, hundreds of people turned up at Dalhousie University’s Sexton Campus in downtown Halifax as the province continued to roll out a series of pop-up COVID-19 testing centres.

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The lineup snaked its way along several city blocks, starting at the testing centre location on Morris Street and ending near the Halifax Central Library on Queen Street.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2020.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.