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COVID-19: Ontario restaurants, small businesses demand compensation as lockdown expected

Click to play video: 'Essential workers left off phase 2 vaccination list seek clarity from Ontario government' Essential workers left off phase 2 vaccination list seek clarity from Ontario government
WATCH ABOVE: Restaurant workers have been told they’re among those to be vaccinated in phase two of the Ontario inoculation plan. But other essential workers who can’t work from home are asking why they’ve been left off. Matthew Bingley reports. – Mar 23, 2021

TORONTO — News that Ontario is going back into widespread lockdowns to control the COVID-19 pandemic is leading to demands for compensation from small business and restaurant groups.

The Canadian Press has learned that Ontario is expected to announce Thursday a 28-day provincewide “shutdown” to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Read more: Ontario government moves to activate 4-week, provincewide COVID-19 ’emergency brake’

The change, coming just two weeks after opening the province to outdoor dining, is “devastating” for members of his organization, said Todd Barclay, CEO of Restaurants Canada.

If the province carries out the ban it must offer compensation for restaurateurs who have been hiring staff and stocking their shelves with food over the past two weeks, he said, and cover rent, utility and other costs for the duration of the lockdown.

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“Two weeks ago, medical officers of health were out discussing the fact that outdoor gathering is good for mental health and is a safe way for people to congregate and here we are, less than two weeks later, being told there’s a potential we’ll be shut down again,” he said.

“The lockdown should be across all sectors, because effectively what I’m hearing they’re going to do is what’s been happening in Toronto for the last six months and it hasn’t worked.”

Read more: Variants driving 3rd wave, younger Ontarians being admitted to ICU: COVID-19 modelling numbers

The restaurant sector has been “scapegoated” even though it’s not a significant part of the problem, Barclay said.

The recent easing of rules allowed outdoor dining with physical distancing in areas in the grey or lockdown zones like Toronto and Peel, after months of only allowing takeout.

The changes allowed eateries in the province’s second-strictest red category to increase capacity to 50 people indoors, up from the previous limit of 10, while restaurants in orange zones could have 100 people indoors, twice the previous cap of 50.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said Thursday it wants all provincial governments to look at lockdown alternatives and increased financial support for small businesses as several jurisdictions move to tougher restrictions.

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“Small businesses are tired of being a scapegoat for the Ontario government’s lack of planning or foresight,” said Ryan Mallough, CFIB director of provincial affairs for Ontario, in a statement.

“For months, they have been told that there is light at the end of the tunnel or a new announcement that’s a `game changer,’ and for months nothing has changed.”

He said Toronto and Peel have been largely shut down since November while COVID-19 cases rise and fall with thousands of small businesses never seeing a single customer.

Read more: Ontario eases some COVID-19 pandemic restrictions for bars, restaurants to boost economy

CFIB president Dan Kelly says the first two shutdowns were devastating with one in six businesses considering permanent closure.

The group says a survey found that two thirds of small businesses would consider using COVID-19 rapid tests to remain open.

CFIB says Canadian small businesses on average have taken on $170,000 in COVID-19-related debt.

It says three quarters of respondents said it will take more than a year to pay off.

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