Alberta’s hospitality industry pushes for reopening of restaurants, bars amid COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Alberta hospitality industry pens open letter to government' Alberta hospitality industry pens open letter to government
WATCH: The Alberta Hospitality Association is calling for clear, concise goals when it comes to COVID-19 restrictions. In an open letter, the group says the government should allow them to reopen for dine-in service. Christa Dao reports. – Jan 14, 2021

A group representing Alberta’s hospitality industry is sounding the alarm on the long-term effects the province’s current COVID-19 restrictions will have should they remain in place.

The health measures have closed in-person services at all restaurants, pubs, bars, lounges and cafes in Alberta, with only take-out, curbside pickup and delivery allowed.

The restrictions were put in place on Dec. 13 and are to remain in place until at least Jan. 21.

Click to play video: 'Alberta Hospitality Association, Edmonton Chinatown restaurants calls on province to ease restrictions' Alberta Hospitality Association, Edmonton Chinatown restaurants calls on province to ease restrictions
Alberta Hospitality Association, Edmonton Chinatown restaurants calls on province to ease restrictions – Jan 14, 2021

In an open letter to Alberta’s UCP government, the Alberta Hospitality Association (AHA) says the industry is now at a breaking point and the 150,000 Albertans who work in the industry are struggling.

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“Without better communication, fact-based data, and a clear near-term re-opening plan, we will continue to permanently lose businesses and jobs,” the letter states. “This will have long term repercussions including mass unemployment and irreparable economic and cultural damage.”

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The association is asking Jason Kenney’s UCP government to let restaurants reopen in-person dining with strict measures in place — and commit to no more shutdowns.

Click to play video: 'Alberta Hospitality Association pushes for reopening plan' Alberta Hospitality Association pushes for reopening plan
Alberta Hospitality Association pushes for reopening plan – Jan 14, 2021

Along with preventing in-person dining, Alberta’s current COVID-19 restrictions have closed personal and wellness services and largely prohibited team sports and fitness classes.

Retail services are still allowed to be open but are limited to operating at 15 per cent capacity.

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Read more: Alberta’s contact tracing improving as 652 new COVID-19 cases identified, 38 more deaths

The letter states that though the association originally supported the government’s decision to institute COVID-19 restrictions, there is no clear end in sight and a “lack of supporting data” that makes it difficult to justify having some industries closed while others remain open.

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The letter calls current COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta “unbalanced and unfair.”

“Closed sectors of the economy such as hospitality, cosmetology, and fitness are industries that are highly regulated with rigorous safety standards which provide safe environments for both guests and employees, and yet they remain closed,” the letter states.

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AHA President Ernie Tsu says the government has made decisions with incomplete data due to contact tracing delays.

“It would be different if we could stick to that tag line of ‘we’re all in this together,’ but we’re not right now,” Tsu said.

“You as an Alberta government are now pitting industry versus industry. You cannot keep certain sectors of the economy closed — and the cases go up — while other sectors are open.”

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New Calgary restaurants to check out – Jan 3, 2021

Publicco Italian Kitchen owner Melissa Legault said it has been “incredibly difficult” for them financially.

“To have this beautiful space here, and it’s not being used right now. It’s heartbreaking,” Legault said.

“It’s taken a huge toll on all of us. We owe money to our landlord (and) to our creditors, and we’re trying our best to pay everybody. The government has stepped up and helped us a little bit. But I don’t know how long that’s going to help us in the long run. It’s just short term right now,” she said.

Mental Health Concerns

Tsu added that mental health issues are an ongoing concern for those who work in the industry.

Speaking to Global News on Thursday, Tsu said the association is aware of four suicides within the industry over the past five weeks.

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“Mental health is starting to break down,” he said. “Unemployed staff, owners that have their second mortgages and their livelihoods on the line, they can’t go much longer than this.”

“The financial stress has (owners) not sleeping at all at night. Owners in our industry – when we get into our industry – we’re all in. That means lines of credit, that means second mortgages because we believe in the passion of what we do,” Tsu said.

“That’s where you start to see the anxiety and depression really come in, especially if there’s no game plan, and not being able to see when our industry is going to open while other sectors are still open and there’s still no answer on where the cases are at.”

Restaurateur Leslie Echino of Annabelle’s Kitchen said she has seen a deterioration of her staff’s mental health through the pandemic.

“I started seeing a lot of decline in some of the mental health of my employees,” Echino said. She went from 48 staff members employed to just three, spread out over across her restaurants.

Echino also sits on the board of Restaurants Canada. She said the restrictions vary across the country, adding the mix of government regulations, especially on those who live alone, have had a huge impact on people’s mental state in Alberta.

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She said if restrictions don’t change, more will be shuttered.

“I think you’re going to start seeing a lot of mom and pop restaurants closing if it gets pushed back another two weeks or four weeks.

“As a small business owner, any small business owner, we don’t have a pension, we don’t have EI, you know, our life savings are in these businesses.”

“I don’t want money from the government. I want to be self-sustaining, operate my business and pay my taxes and contribute to society,” she said.

The letter is calling for a concrete relaunch plan with measurable targets that need to be reached for services to reopen, such as a specific R-value, number of daily COVID-19 cases or number of hospitalizations.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said he’s received the message loud and clear Thursday – but provided no timeline on when restrictions will ease for the restaurant industry.

“There’s a lot of inventory that has to be purchased. There’s a lot of notice that needs to be done.

“A lot of restaurants in particular have identified for us a concern that they don’t want the yo-yoing of opening and closing and opening and closing. So we’re listening to that feedback to those businesses.”

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Neither Shandro nor Hinshaw provided exact numbers in terms of what Alberta’s R-value, positivity rate, new case rates, hospitalizations or ICU admissions would need to be in order for further restrictions to be lifted.

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