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COVID-19: Capacity limits out, optimism in for London, Ont. businesses

Click to play video: 'Restaurant, gym owners react to province lifting capacity limits' Restaurant, gym owners react to province lifting capacity limits
Restaurant and gym owners say they are relieved that that province will be lifting capacity limits starting Monday. Erica Vella has their reaction – Oct 22, 2021

For some London, Ont., businesses, Monday marks an important step in their journey back to a pre-pandemic “normal.”

As of 12:01 a.m. Monday, Ontario restaurants, bars and gyms were able to lift capacity limits as part of the province’s plan to move out of Step 3 of its COVID-19 reopening plan.

Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments as well as indoor meeting and event spaces were also able to lift their capacity limits.

Read more: Ontario government lifts COVID capacity limits for bars, restaurants, gyms beginning Monday

For restaurant owner Tom Sada, this came at the perfect time.

“We always depend on patio season and patio season is over,” said Sada, who owns Chuck’s Roadhouse in London. “If (Ontario) hadn’t allowed full capacity in the restaurant, how are we going to survive?”

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Julianna Couwenberghs, the general manager of The Springs Restaurant, says they’re excited to welcome more patrons.

“So far from what I’ve heard, (people) are excited to go back to dining,” she said. “I think they’re also more comfortable knowing that if they’re sitting close to people, it’s okay because they’re all fully vaccinated.”

Both Sada and Couwenberghs say staff worked all weekend to get the restaurants ready.

The staff at Chuck’s Roadhouse closed down the patio on Sunday while staff at The Springs Restaurant got busy cleaning and training.

“We’re cleaning more tables, making sure everything is getting done, (we’re) making sure every staff knows how to screen people and how to check them in with QR codes,” said Couwenberghs.

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Read more: COVID-19: London and Middlesex adds 19 new cases, 11 recoveries Sunday

Meanwhile, a local gym is taking a slower approach towards returning to full capacity.

Emily Kategiannis, a co-owner and facility manager of West London CrossFit, says the gym is excited to welcome more people, but not enough to fill up the gym.

“We’re a bit of a smaller space, so we’ll continue to have a moderate number just to give everybody enough room in the facility at one time,” she said. “We’ve noticed an increase in membership, so it’ll be nice to have a few extra spots open up in all of our classes.”

Read more: Feds focusing on COVID-19 benefits that ‘incentivize work,’ says Qualtrough

The province’s reopening plan also highlighted when vaccine certificate requirements may be lifted in the “absence of concerning trends.”

On Jan. 17, 2022, restaurants, bars, sports and recreational facilities, casinos and bingo halls may be able to cease checking vaccination certificates, depending on COVID-19 case numbers.

The province also said starting March 28, “all remaining public health and workplace safety measures in businesses and organizations” could be lifted, including masking.

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Couwenberghs says she’s looking forward to that day.

“It’d be great to go back to what it used to be like. I think the staff would love to see people actually greeting them with a smile on their face (rather than) smiling through their eyes,” she said.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to go back to serving all of our clientele,” Kategiannis added. “We’d really love to see everyone’s faces smiling instead of looking (at) their masks.”

As for Sada, he says he’ll have to see it before he believes it.

“Nobody knows what could happen from now until (then), but if that (happens), I’m going to feel free,” he laughed.

Read more: Ontario registry allowing businesses, non-profits to make filings online goes live

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Dr. Alex Summers, the associate medical officer of health with the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU), says while there is a risk of another rise in cases, the risk is minimal.

“We’ll have to watch very closely to see if transmission rates change over the next few weeks, but critical to all of this is that everybody is rolling up their sleeve and that the only people attending these venues are fully vaccinated,” he said.

Until further restrictions are lifted, Summers is advising Londoners to continue following all public health guidance, especially wearing masks.

Read more: Ontario reports 370 COVID-19 cases, 1 death

“As we go through the winter and the colder weather, making sure we continue to have masking requirements in place is absolutely essential,” he said. “Once we get to March, we can reevaluate, and I think the province will do so.”

In updated modelling projections on Friday, the province’s science table said worst-case scenario for Ontario is around 700 cases per day by end of November, with the best case seeing around 200.

The province previously paused plans in mid-August to exit Step 3 of its reopening framework as fourth-wave cases were rising.

-With files from Global News’ Jessica Patton and The Canadian Press

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