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COVID-19: Confusion about Step 2 timing in Alberta’s reopening worries businesses like gyms

Click to play video 'Last-minute decision in Step 2 of Alberta’s eased restrictions could cause scramble' Last-minute decision in Step 2 of Alberta’s eased restrictions could cause scramble
Unlike the advanced notice given to restaurants in Step 1 of Alberta's reopening plan, businesses in Step 2 might find out the day-of and as early as March 1. Orange Theory Fitness is confident they're in the next stage but they need several days to prepare. As Lisa MacGregor reports, there's concern that the last-minute decision could cause a scramble and cost some businesses money.

Alberta could start Step 2 of the province’s plan to ease restrictions as early as Monday, March 1. That means some businesses could find out that they’re allowed to reopen that very day.

“We know that lead times vary by sector and business,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday.

“Given that each step in the path forward contains some unique elements, the same notice may not be required for businesses in Step 2, 3 or 4.”

Sectors involved in Step 1, which included restaurants, were given a week’s notice that they’d be allowed to reopen Feb. 8.

Read more: COVID-19: What you can and cannot do in Alberta on Monday, Feb. 8

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said provincial officials need the extra time to look at case numbers and where spread is happening before making a decision on Step 2.

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“We did need the additional time to be able to look at the full three weeks of data following the first step to be able to understand what’s happening with our numbers, where is spread happening and if we need to take longer or a more cautious approach going forward,” Hinshaw said.

Click to play video 'COVID-19: Hinshaw clarifies answer regarding Step 2 reopening date' COVID-19: Hinshaw clarifies answer regarding Step 2 reopening date
COVID-19: Hinshaw clarifies answer regarding Step 2 reopening date – Feb 23, 2021

“Recognizing that it is frustrating for businesses, while the decision will be made at the earliest on March 1st, I’m not able to say with certainty exactly when that would be implemented,” she said.

“It could be as early as that same day or it could be that a decision is made with some lag time for businesses to prepare for opening.”

Hinshaw says the R-value, along with the positivity rate in Alberta will help determine whether or not the reopening can go ahead. Hospitalizations must also be below 450 people. As of Tuesday, 326 people were in hospital.

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Read more: Hinshaw urges caution as restrictions ease and Alberta records 25 new COVID-19 variant cases

While the potential reopening is welcome news to some businesses, many feel the lack of notice could lead to a big scramble.

Alberta businesses have been asking the province for a week’s notice before a decision is made on reopening. It’s crucial for Orangetheory Fitness, so it can prepare all 26 studios in the province.

Click to play video 'COVID-19: Gym owners ask Alberta government for more easing of restrictions' COVID-19: Gym owners ask Alberta government for more easing of restrictions
COVID-19: Gym owners ask Alberta government for more easing of restrictions – Feb 4, 2021

Orangetheory president Blake MacDonald said the potential lack of heads up could cause lofty expectations for customers wondering why the gym needs more days to get ready.

“High-intensity group fitness studios require time to rehire staff, to get them trained, to put COVID safety protocols in place and so, it’s not easy for us to just turn the lights on and allow patrons to come in,” MacDonald said.

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“I think the more notice, the better.”

MacDonald also said the province’s possible last-minute decision could also cost the franchise thousands of dollars per studio in federal funding.

“Lockdown support is 25 per cent of our rent subsidy today, which can be, for an Orangetheory studio, between $3,000 and $5,000.”

“The day that they actually reopen or announce reopening, we lose our lockdown support for our rent subsidies,” MacDonald said.

READ MORE: COVID-19: Hinshaw says decision on Step 2 of reopening in Alberta won’t be until March 1 or later

A spokesperson for the federal minister of finance told Global News the government’s top priority remains supporting Canadians and businesses. She also explained the only federal support affected by a reopening is the lockdown support. Eligible businesses would still receive rent support.

“That is why we have introduced targeted support to help hard-hit businesses and other organizations experiencing a drop in revenue,” said press secretary Kat Cuplinskas.

“These include the up to 75 per cent wage subsidy; the rent subsidy and lockdown support, which when combined could cover up to 90 per cent of a tenant’s rent; the expanded Canada Emergency Business Account loan; and the new Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program.

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“The federal government will continue to be there for Albertans and all Canadians, as we have been since the start of the pandemic.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Federal government announces new rent subsidy support for small businesses' Coronavirus: Federal government announces new rent subsidy support for small businesses
Coronavirus: Federal government announces new rent subsidy support for small businesses – Nov 23, 2020

Alberta Health said it can’t provide an official decision or more detail on Step 2, except for a potential list of areas that could see eased restrictions.

The Step 2 plan lists retail, banquet halls, community halls, conference centres, hotels and further easing of indoor fitness and children’s sport.

Despite gyms not specifically being listed, MacDonald is confident Orangetheory Fitness is part of the next stage of reopening.

“We’ve been working with an industry liaison group with the Ministry of Health and Economic Development,” he said.

“They’ve been fairly transparent about the fact that we were going to be put into the Stage 2 of reopening.”

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