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Owners of independent Edmonton restaurants push for ‘COVID-zero’ plan

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Alberta to begin easing COVID-19 health measures Feb. 8' Coronavirus: Alberta to begin easing COVID-19 health measures Feb. 8
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces Step 1 of the province’s staged easing of COVID-19 health measures starting Feb. 8, 2021. – Jan 29, 2021

While restaurants across Alberta can welcome people back for in-person dining on Monday, a number of independent restaurant owners in Edmonton aren’t pleased with the plan.

Read more: Alberta to lift some COVID-19 restrictions and reopen gyms, in-person dining Feb. 8

The owners of 48 Edmonton restaurants have signed their name to an open letter, asking all levels of government to adopt a “COVID-zero” plan instead.

The group is advocating a strict lockdown for about five weeks to stop transmission, along with appropriate supports for businesses and individuals.

“This will stop the cycle of bleed and bandage, and focus on a long-term solution for real economic recovery,” the letter reads.

The group is calling on all levels of government for stronger support for restaurants to stay closed to dine-in service, while allowing them to remain sustainable.

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Read more: Canada’s pandemic ‘finish line’ is not a given: experts

“We are deeply concerned about the hopeless situation that has been forced upon us, our businesses and our staff,” the letter reads.

“The lack of meaningful government intervention to curb the spread of COVID-19, including appropriate support to help businesses remain closed, has prolonged this crisis and destroyed many lives and livelihoods.”

Katy Ingraham is the owner of Fleisch Delikatessen and Cartago in Forest Heights and is also co-founder of the Edmonton Independent Hospitality Community, a “coalition of small, independent hospitality operators.”

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She told Global News the group wrote another open letter back in December, when it had concerns with health risks and the current rules in place.

Click to play video: 'Expansion of Alberta relaunch grant still leaves some newer businesses out' Expansion of Alberta relaunch grant still leaves some newer businesses out
Expansion of Alberta relaunch grant still leaves some newer businesses out – Jan 15, 2021

Ingraham said the group is now focused on stopping the open-close cycle and getting off this COVID-19 roller-coaster. The hospitality community consulted with biologists and ER physicians about the best way to do this. She said the “overwhelming recommendation” was to adopt a COVID-zero strategy.

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“The best time to do that would have been in March or April of 2020… The alternative is to do it now.”

Ingraham worries that continuing on the reopening path will lead Alberta back to the COVID-19 rates it saw in late November and early December by late March or April of this year.

Click to play video: 'Alberta to lift some COVID-19 restrictions and reopen gyms, in-person dining Feb. 8' Alberta to lift some COVID-19 restrictions and reopen gyms, in-person dining Feb. 8
Alberta to lift some COVID-19 restrictions and reopen gyms, in-person dining Feb. 8 – Jan 29, 2021

“To go through all of this — get staff rehired, reopen our doors — just to have to do this again, a lot of us are just in favour of doing what works and asking governments to support us in that effort,” she explained.

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“We agree with the experts that that’s what will work, but we don’t feel we should have to lose our businesses and livelihoods in order to get that collective goal.

“That’s sort of what has happened so far, with a lot of the programs falling short, and being piecemeal and not really comprehensive to reach the goals we need to reach to get COVID out of our communities.”

Read more: Health experts push for ‘aggressive’ strategy called #COVIDZero to stamp out coronavirus

In a statement, jobs, economy and innovation press secretary Justin Brattinga said the reopening plan puts a priority on protecting the health system, while also allowing less severe restrictions.

“Expecting ‘COVID Zero’ would require a much more intense and prolonged lockdown than many employers could withstand, and would be catastrophic to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Albertans.”

The government has provided more than $330 million to over 47,000 businesses through the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant, and the government will be bringing forward further supports for small businesses in the coming days, Brattinga said.

Ingraham added Fleisch will not be opening Feb. 8 for dine-in service, but says most restaurants don’t have the option.

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“Our decision is our decision but other people making the decision to reopen to dine-in, in a lot of cases, it’s because they don’t have any other options, which is a very difficult position to be in as a business owner, as someone who cares about the well-being of their staff and their community.”

Click to play video: '‘Alberta is not involved in a chase after zero’: Kenney explains why there aren’t harsher COVID-19 restrictions' ‘Alberta is not involved in a chase after zero’: Kenney explains why there aren’t harsher COVID-19 restrictions
‘Alberta is not involved in a chase after zero’: Kenney explains why there aren’t harsher COVID-19 restrictions – Nov 24, 2020

Premier Jason Kenney has stated many times that Alberta is not chasing COVID zero and that Alberta businesses cannot withstand the prolonged closure that type of plan would take.

“Other jurisdictions around the world have proven that prioritizing the economy over COVID suppression is a false dichotomy,” the EIHC said.

The letter points to South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia and even the Maritimes in Canada as jurisdictions where a zero-COVID strategy has worked to drastically reduce and even eliminate COVID-19.

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Read more: Edmonton health advocacy group calls Alberta’s COVID-19 reopening plans ‘highly risky’

Now that two COVID-19 variants have been recorded to spread in Alberta, the group said its more important than ever to change gears.

“The longer we try to operate under the falsehood that we are saving livelihoods and lives, we lose more lives, more businesses and more livelihoods.

“These platitudes ring especially hollow for the hospitality industry.”

Click to play video: 'Easing Alberta COVID-19 restrictions will be staged approach based on hospitalizations' Easing Alberta COVID-19 restrictions will be staged approach based on hospitalizations
Easing Alberta COVID-19 restrictions will be staged approach based on hospitalizations – Jan 29, 2021

The group claims the government has “severely” impeded restaurants’ ability to sustain their businesses with “ill thought out public health orders” rather than taking comprehensive action and supporting business closures and other measures to suppress COVID-19.

“With eight more months to go before we hit our target of everyone who wants a vaccine in Canada getting one, we need action on COVID Zero now,” the letter said.

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Read more: COVID-19: Gym owners call on Alberta government to ease more restrictions, allow for full reopening

On Monday, restrictions on in-person dining will lift, allowing people who live together to eat in a restaurant again. Those who live alone can eat with their two designated social contacts.

Tables must be spaced two metres apart and one person from each group must leave contact information.

— With files from Emily Mertz, Global News

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