Ontario shuts down Christmas lights drive-thrus early under new coronavirus lockdown measures

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Ontario’s lockdown timeline sparks criticism and concern
WATCH: Ontario Premier Doug Ford is being criticized for starting the province's lockdown on Boxing Day. As Mike Drolet explains, COVID-19 is already overwhelming hospitals, so health officials say this is no time to wait – Dec 24, 2020

TORONTO — Drive-thru Christmas light festivals will be going dark in Ontario weeks earlier than organizers planned under Doug Ford’s stricter COVID-19 measures that go into effect on Saturday.

But several creators say they hope last-minute efforts to lobby the government before the holidays will convince leaders to make drive-thru shows an exception to the lockdown.

Monica Gomez, whose Polar Drive near Toronto’s Pearson International Airport was scheduled to run until January, says she was surprised when she learned she would have to shut down.

Read more: Ontario to enter ‘provincewide shutdown’ on Boxing Day

Her region had already been operating under stricter grey-zone lockdown measures that started on Nov. 23, but drive-thrus were still allowed up until the announcement earlier this week.

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“It’s Christmas, this was put on us last minute, and now people aren’t in office,” she says of attempts to contact local officials.

“It wasn’t all about the revenue. This was about doing something for families. In our mind, we’re like, why would you take that one thing away from people right now?”

Gomez says it doesn’t make sense that her contactless event isn’t allowed to continue while drive-thru fast-food restaurants can still hand items through the pick-up window.

Ontario is grappling with rising COVID-19 infection rates, including a new record high of 2,447 cases reported Thursday.

Read more: Ontario sets new single-day record for coronavirus cases

Residents are being told to stay home as much as possible and only go out for essential services, even before the province-wide lockdown begins on Dec. 26 and lasts at least a month.

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The latest changes impacted other businesses that relied on in-car experiences.

Drive-in movie theatres were told several days before the opening of “Wonder Woman 1984” on Dec. 25 they could no longer operate, while the drive-in Immersive Van Gogh exhibit in Toronto will be forced to close as well.

Some drive-in Christmas light events have already thrown in the towel, including Canadian Tire’s Christmas Trail, which closed up on Dec. 23 and cancelled all future reservations.

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Daryl Driegen, director of operations at Glow Gardens in Fort Erie, Ont., says the timing couldn’t be worse.

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Coronavirus: Ontario businesses struggle as lockdown extended

The week leading up to Christmas and the week after the holidays are “prime” periods of activity for his 3-kilometre stretch of lights inside Safari Niagara. He was planning to stay open into mid-January.

“This order is forcing us to fire all of our staff on Christmas Eve,” he says.

Driegen says Glow’s locations faced a similar hurdle in British Columbia where drive-thru Christmas light events ran against regulations until a case was made to keep them open.

He says with ticketed events, at least families are required to stay in their car. If they’re out spotting decorated houses in their neighbourhoods, he believes more people are likely to walk around and cross paths with other sightseers.

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Click to play video: 'Ontario premier faces tough questions over Boxing Day shutdown'
Ontario premier faces tough questions over Boxing Day shutdown

Andrew Gidaro, who co-produces Holiday Nights of Lights in Vaughan, Ont., says he’s not opposed to the lockdown, but feels the province “missed the mark a little” when it lumped contactless in-vehicle events into the latest measures.

He believes a “meaningful dialogue” with local government officials in Vaughan could lead to an agreement that these events are “something necessary” for the community.

“We’re hopeful that we can get this thing turned and continue to operate,” he added.

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