Just one day after the Nova Scotia government announced its phased reopening plan, work is already underway at The Old Triangle Irish Alehouse in Halifax to prepare for patio season.
Beginning June 2, restaurants can reopen their patios to maximum capacity, provided there’s a distance of two metres between tables and no more than 10 guests at each table.
“We’re delighted just to be working,” said co-owner Cheryl Doherty, in between staining the patio and assembling new heating lamps.
“People in this industry, I mean, we work, it’s what we do. Sitting in limbo for the last month or however long it’s been has been really hard on everyone mentally.”
Premier Iain Rankin and Dr. Robert Strang released a five-phase, gradual reopening plan for the summer late on Friday afternoon. The outline doesn’t commit to any dates, but estimates each phase will last between two and four weeks, depending on COVID-19 case numbers, testing capacity, and hospitalization and vaccination rates.
Indoor restaurant dining, for example, could resume anytime between mid-June and early July.
While some businesses say they’re pleased to have something to look forward to, the lack of calendar certainty makes it difficult to plan after more than a year of financial hardship. The next few months are particularly important, say restaurant owners, as summer income often helps float them through the winter.
“It’s really hard for staffing, that’s probably the number one issue that we’re going to be facing, and then also deciding what to do in terms of hiring more people,” said Katie Tower, co-owner of the Field Guide restaurant on Gottingen Street, which doesn’t have space to open a patio.
When in-person dining does resume, Tower added, the public can support restaurants financially by being courteous with their time at the tables, allowing them to seat more guests.
Phase one, which begins next Wednesday, also includes an increase in outdoor gathering limits and the reopening of all retail businesses to 25 per cent capacity, with distancing and face masks. Gyms and recreational facilities can resume one-on-one indoor training, and increase their outdoor training groups to 10 people.
Devin Sherrington, owner of 360Fit in Dartmouth, said that means much of his business can resume next week, although some gyms have opted to remain closed until all their members can return.
“I know a lot of people were unhappy with the fact there weren’t dates attached to (the plan),” he told Global News. “If we have numbers that drop, I have no doubt they can speed up some of those times, or slow it down if necessary.
“I’m not ecstatic about the plan, but I certainly am not negative about it and I think a stair-step approach is probably the best way they can do it.”
Friday’s plan contained a plot twist for teachers, who will return to classrooms next Wednesday in all schools outside the Halifax Regional Municipality and Sydney, where community spread continues. In those areas, only students with “highly complex needs” will be allowed to return to in-person learning.
Just last week, Rankin told the public with no uncertainty that schools would remain closed for the remainder of the school year.
“We know so many families have made arrangements for childcare, have adjusted their work schedule, some people have taken a leave of absence from work to be able to care for their month of June, and now all of those plans have to be adapted,” said Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.
“And of course, teachers really have invested the last week in being ready, working overtime to make sure that June is as meaningful as possible in remote learning, and now all of that work is for nothing, and a lot of teachers still don’t even have direction about whether or not they’re physically supposed to be at work on Monday.”
As of Saturday, Wozney said he had received no correspondence or instruction from the Education Department or minister. The lack of details is making it difficult for him to support teachers and answer their questions, he explained.
He also anticipated there will be some conflict over precisely which students are allowed to return to in-person learning in the Halifax-area and Sydney, and he feels teachers will likely field “anger” from parents who feel their children should be back in class.
Tim Houston, leader of the Official Opposition PC Party, said he was pleased to see the government plan for rapid COVID-19 testing at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.
Like some business owners, however, he decried the lack of detail in the timing of each phase.
“I think when you look at the New Brunswick plan, the P.E.I. plan — they’re very specific in terms of dates,” he explained. “Here in Nova Scotia, we should see dates as well.
“We’re understanding, we’ll know if those dates slip, but let’s be very clear with Nova Scotians as to what they can expect. That’s a level of clarity that’s missing, and I wish that was there.”