Additional measures announced earlier this week to once again try to bring down spiking COVID-19 infections in Alberta are now in effect, meaning restaurants must close their doors to in-person dining.
Effective noon Friday, Alberta restaurants must now close to indoor dining service. Takeout, delivery, curbside pickup and patios are still allowed to operate under additional public health restrictions announced Tuesday by Premier Jason Kenney.
This is the third time since last March that Alberta restaurants have been forced to close their doors.
“It has been a challenging year and a half, I’m not going to lie to you,” said Thomas Feuchter, owner of Barb and Ernie’s Old Country Inn in Edmonton.
The restaurant served its last few customers for breakfast Friday before closing their doors once again.
“Doing takeout for us — we have loyal customers that support us, which we’re lucky — but let’s be honest, a breakfast place isn’t usually what most people are going to have for takeout. So it is very challenging.”
Feuchter said the shutdowns have been the toughest on his staff members, some of whom he will have to lay off again. The restaurant will stay open for takeout and is planning to move as many tables as it can outside to stay afloat, but that’s very weather-dependent.
“It also lets me bring some of my people back and give them some hours, at least on the days where it’s warmer outside.”
Allowing outdoor dining on patios is the major difference this time around, compared to the two previous shutdowns.
Jacqueline Oakes with Tiramisu Bistro on 124 Street said that will make a big difference.
“It is quite significant. We will have quite a few tables lost and revenue lost but fortunately we’re having the patio tables to compensate for that,” she explained.
“It means we can keep our staff employed, not have to make any layoffs and hopefully be more prepared for the summertime.”
The bistro has a few cafe tables outside, as well as a number of tables covered by plastic igloos. The restaurant is also in the process of applying for a rooftop patio licence, to further expand its outdoor footprint.
“With the pandemic, we have to roll with the changes and try and evolve with the things that are happening and Edmonton is striving for an outdoor year-round patio sort of thing,” she said.
“That will allow us to have more seating year-round.”
Lionel Rault was at the bistro for breakfast Friday morning when the restrictions came into effect.
“At the stroke of noon we thought, before we get liquidated, we will volunteer to move so that’s what we’ve done,” he said with a laugh.
“If it’s going to keep us safe, if there really is some end to all of this, then good. Let it be. Also not hurt that it’s a beautiful sunny day and if the weather continues then this isn’t really a hardship.”
Kenney announced the move back to Step 1 of the province’s “path forward plan” on Tuesday. Other restrictions, which are already in effect, include a 15 per cent capacity cap at retail locations, as well as further limits on indoor fitness activities and sports and performance activities.
The premier said Alberta is on track to have 2,000 new infections a day and 1,000 people in hospital with COVID-19 by the end of April, and that the third wave is being driven by variants.
On Thursday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health announced variant cases of concern have become dominant strains of new COVID-19 cases in Alberta. By far, the most common variant spreading in Alberta is the B.1.1.7. variant, which was first discovered in the U.K., according to Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“Two thousand cases a day of COVID, if that’s what we get to, that’s a little scary. It is. Even for my staff, it is a little scary looking after people,” Feuchter said.
He completely understands why restaurants are being shut down again, but feels the province didn’t go far enough with restrictions to bring down the number of infections.
“I could see why they closed us,” he said. “But if we’re going to do this, our provincial government did not close enough.
“It seems like the restaurant industry is the one that’s getting hit the hardest and I think it’s a little unfair… I’m just very frustrated that the government did not actually impose more restrictions on people and what they can do — at least for two or three weeks.”
After the restrictions were announced Tuesday, a spokesperson with Alberta Health said they were based on evidence in the province, and around the world which show settings like fitness facilities and restaurants are at increased risk of disease transmission.
“Restaurants, as with similar settings where people congregate together, have a higher risk due to people sitting closely together, typically unmasked, for extended periods of time,” Tom McMillan said.
“We have also observed a number of recent cases and outbreaks linked to restaurants and fitness settings across the province.”
Feuchter remains optimistic that this shutdown will be shorter than the previous two; being able to open the indoor dining aspect in some capacity again by Mother’s Day is his ultimate hope.
“A two-month shutdown now will hurt the whole hospitality industry which is suffering already,” he said.
“If we have to go another month, we’ll survive, but it is very frustrating. It has not been a year where we’re making a lot of money. It’s basically just to keep your head above water. That’s what it’s been like.
“We’ll wait and see… But, who knows. It all depends on vaccinations.”
In Calgary, Bennys Breakfast Bar remained open Friday to serve customers indoors. Owner Kevin Young says it was a difficult decision to make, but one he felt he needed to in order to keep his business alive.
“We’ve gone through this twice before. We followed all the protocols, put in the PPE, the cleaning chemicals, the barriers, everything.
“We survived the two times, but this time came along and I just don’t see the reasoning for it. If I close again, I may never open.”
Young says that even if he were to follow all the rules, it would still be difficult to run a business.
“Allowing us to have a patio in April, or take-out dining… First of all, it’s April in Alberta, it’s probably going to snow in the next two days, so a patio is nil.
“And we’re a breakfast place and eggs don’t travel well. We were really limited on what we could do here, so I decided to take a stand and remain open.”
Young says he’s unsure what consequences he may face for not complying with government health orders.
“I don’t know if they (AHS) are going to come in and educate me or if they will go straight to a fine or if they will have the SWAT van parked outside for me. I’m not sure.”
— With files from Matthew Conrod, Global News
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