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Halifax restaurant owners feel left in the dark when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions

Click to play video: 'Many N.S. businesses say they were caught off guard by the new COVID-19 restrictions' Many N.S. businesses say they were caught off guard by the new COVID-19 restrictions
WATCH: Nova Scotia restaurants say they were caught off guard by extension to COVID-19 restrictions. Jesse Thomas reports. – Dec 17, 2020

Lacey Doherty was watching the provincial COVID-19 update Wednesday in her Barrington Street cocktail lounge and dessert bar The Middle Spoon with two employees, anticipating they could re-open its dining room again.

The restrictions, however, were extended.

“We came into work early so we could all watch it together and then we all just kind of sunk in disbelief,” said Doherty.

COVID-19 restrictions in the Halifax Regional Municipality and Hants County have been extended further into the new year, meaning no in-person dining until at least Jan. 11 for bars and restaurants.

Read more: Nova Scotia reports 4 new coronavirus cases, new restrictions put in place for holidays

“We thought we could open today,” said Doherty.

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The COVID-19 restrictions were set to expire at midnight on Dec. 16 and restaurant owners like Doherty still had no idea what the plan would be. They were waiting to hear from the provincial update that same day.

“I didn’t think they would have given us such short notice,” said Doherty. “Now there’s going to be waste in the kitchen.

“We were prepping food in the kitchen and cocktails for people to enjoy in the restaurant.”

The extension of restrictions is tough news for restaurant owners like Jimmy Zellios, who owns The Blue Olive Greek restaurant on Quinpool Road in Halifax’s north end.

Takeout orders at the restaurant are trickling in, Zellios says, but this is the time of year when business is usually at its busiest.

“This is December, you’re talking about Christmas parties and gift certificates and large caterings to offices and they are gone,” said Zelios.

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“They are all gone and so you are talking about tens of thousands of dollars off the table.”

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia introduces new COVID-19 restrictions for the holidays' Nova Scotia introduces new COVID-19 restrictions for the holidays
Nova Scotia introduces new COVID-19 restrictions for the holidays – Dec 16, 2020

Beginning Monday, Dec. 21, fitness, sports and recreation facilities are being allowed to reopen at 50 per cent capacity, while other restrictions, like non-essential travel outside the HRM area, are allowed again.

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In-house dining for restaurants and bars in all other parts of the province can serve food inside their restaurant, but service must stop by 10 p.m. and doors closed by 11 p.m.

That’s a double standard, Zelios argues.

“We’re dealing with daily single-digit numbers of COVID cases and the fact that gyms are reopening and these other places are reopening, why are we being excluded from this?”

PC leader Tim Houston says the lack of communication around the COVID-19 restrictions from Premier Stephen McNeil and the province means businesses are being left in the dark.

“I think that people in that sector (restaurants) and Nova Scotians, in general, have a right to know what’s the criteria that the government is using, and how the government is deciding when things reopen, and how’s the government deciding when things close,” said Houston.

“We’ve seen in other provinces the colour-coding of different jurisdictions. We need that type of information here in Nova Scotia.”

Read more: N.S. offers one-time grant for businesses ordered closed as a result of COVID-19 restrictions

With dining rooms closed at least until Jan. 11, The Middle Spoon will look to bottle their cocktails for takeout options, a necessary move to pay the bills and keep the lights on.

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“We have to kind of pivot the business, we can’t just sit here and pout,” said Doherty. “We need to do something to change it.”

On Wednesday the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, said that the restaurants were on board with the COVID-19 restrictions, but these restaurateurs say they weren’t consulted.

“I would love to know who he has spoken to that’s on board with this,” said Zelios. “It would be nice if they gave us a little more clarity on how they came to this decision.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: One new COVID-19 case reported in PEI as restrictions set to ease' Coronavirus: One new COVID-19 case reported in PEI as restrictions set to ease
Coronavirus: One new COVID-19 case reported in PEI as restrictions set to ease – Dec 17, 2020

On Thursday Geoff MacLellan, minister of business, said that the government will be consulting with businesses and restaurant association representatives in the coming days to speak about health care protocols and potential financial supports.

“At the end of the day I want to listen, and if there are things we can do, then we will do our very best,” said MacLellan.

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“On the call tomorrow, I want them to talk and tell me what the impact has been and how it’s been and what the outlook seems to be for the next 30, 60, 90 days and what we have to do to help them keep the lights on.”

With files from Global News’ Aya Al-Hakim

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