London businesses adapt to red level of Ontario’s COVID-19 response framework

Hyland Cinema in London, Ont., has switched to a drive-in model during the pandemic. via @HylandCinema/Twitter

It’s likely not the direction London businesses hoped the region would be heading under Ontario’s COVID-19 response framework, but local business owners have made moves to adapt to new restrictions.

On Monday, the province announced that the Middlesex-London Health Unit would be moving to the red-control level from the orange-restrict level effective 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

Read more: Middlesex-London Health Unit moving to red-control level March 30

The move means stricter capacity measures for many businesses, though cinemas can now operate only as drive-ins. Under the orange level, theatres were allowed to operate with capacity limits of 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors, where physical distancing can be maintained.

“It’s been a crazy year, that’s for sure. You know, up and down and the cinemas usually are first to close, last to open,” Hyland Cinema co-owner Moira Adlan told Global News.

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Hyland Cinema will open its 35-vehicle capacity drive-in April 3 with Uncle Buck starring John Candy, a continuation of a theme that began last July.

Read more: COVID-19: Ontario budget proposes new select tourism, hospitality grants and programs

“We opened last summer on Canada Day with John Candy in Canadian Bacon. So that was huge and it was really steady all summer. We had great support and we actually went … down to every other week and it was still running at Christmas. We showed White Christmas out there and it was snowing,” Adlan said.

“We’re opening with Mr. Candy again. He’s our lucky charm, I guess.”

While they’ve made necessary adjustments, Adlan says the cinema is looking forward to the day when it can fully reopen.

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For retail, the move to red means the introduction of capacity limits of 50 per cent, except for stores that primarily sell groceries as well as convenience stores and pharmacies which are permitted to operate at 75 per cent capacity.

Lisa Ferguson, co-owner of Hangar 9 on Richmond Row, says while moving to red from orange impacts businesses, she understands “with the new variants and the strain on our hospitals, that it’s something that we definitely have to look at.”

“I would rather move from orange to red than red to grey,” she says.

“It’s very hard for businesses like mine to open, shut, open, shut, open, shut. You know, we’re all a year later still in survival mode.”

Read more: ‘The universe has really expanded.’ How 3 small businesses pivoted in the pandemic

For restaurants, the move to red from orange means a tightening of capacity limits. Under orange, the limit was the lesser of 50 per cent of indoor dining area or 100 people.

Under red, it’s the lesser of 50 per cent or 50 people.

Joelle Lees, owner of Michael’s on the Thames, says it is more manageable for the restaurant than the last time the region entered red, allowing only 10 people for indoor dining.

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“That’s a game-changer for us,” said Lees, adding that staff morale is much better now than when restrictions were first announced.

Anticipating further restrictions, Lees says the restaurant has already been working to get the patio ready.

“The push to get that open and ready has already started as of last week when we heard we might be moving to red.”

She says that will allow Michael’s on the Thames to offer outdoor dining, even if the region undergoes further restrictions.

Read more: COVID-19: Added safety measures at Western amid rise in local cases, new residence outbreak

There is no change for personal care services in the move to red from orange, but a move to grey would see those closed entirely. At this time, restrictions include patron screening and a ban on services that require face coverings to be removed.

“It is what it is,” said Jean Coles, owner of three Sports Clips locations in London. Coles says the business sees fewer clients as the region’s public health restrictions tighten.

“The closer we get to grey, we see less and less clients even though as personal care services, we are always at the top of our game as far as cleanliness and sanitation goes.”

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Coles says that leaving a positive online review is something all small businesses would appreciate, and is a good way to support them from afar.

“If you don’t support us, we won’t be here when this is all over. Support your favourite businesses. Call them up and find out what they need,” Coles said.

“That is a fantastic thing that anyone can do from home.”

Read more: COVID-19: 1 death, 46 new cases in London-Middlesex; 1 death, 18 cases in Sarnia-Lambton

On Tuesday, the MLHU reported one death and 46 new COVID-19 cases as the region returned to red-control under the province’s restrictions framework.

Additionally, a new outbreak was declared at a Western University student residence.

The region also saw 22 additional cases screen variant positive, according to the health unit.

— with files from Global News’ Matthew Trevithick

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