Businesses are once again being forced to pivot as the province reinforces COVID-19 restrictions across Nova Scotia.
Starting Friday, masking, gathering limits and physical distancing restrictions are making a comeback. Food establishments and liquor-licensed businesses must have physical distance between tables and a limit of 20 people per table. Patrons must be seated to remove their mask for eating or drinking, and all other mask requirements for indoor public places remain.
Premier Tim Houston and Dr. Robert Strang made the announcement Monday, saying it’s only a short-term step. But the impact is already being felt.
Brendan Doherty, the co-owner of The Old Triangle in downtown Halifax, says they lost hundreds of reservations in the 24 hours following the announcement.
“We’ve had the rug pulled out from under us. Completely,” said Doherty. “People are staying optimistic, but it’s a pretty dark time right now. It just doesn’t make sense”
Doherty assumed some form of restrictions would be returning, but says he was not given a heads-up from the province or Public Health. He hasn’t been made aware of data indicating that restaurants have been a hot spot for the spreading of COVID-19.
“We’ve always been the first place to have restrictions placed on and the last one to have them lifted off,” he said.
“I want to keep everyone safe just as much as anyone else, but we’re reading the same data the province is putting out and we can’t be shutting down over runny noses or mild cases.”
It was around this time last year when additional restrictions were placed on bars and restaurants in Halifax. But Patrick Sullivan of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce says things are different this time around, with vaccines and more testing options.
“We know that it’s safe in a restaurant or in a hotel, or wherever events are taking place. We know it’s safe if people follow the health restrictions and they utilize the (COVID-19) tests,” said Sullivan.
Gordon Stewart, president of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia, says the losses will be “massive,” likely resulting in millions in lost revenue.
“We have a huge increase in costs, somewhere around eight per cent on average for food costs, which means restaurant prices are going to go up,” said Stewart. “We have labour rates that are going to go through the roof, we have supply line issues … it’s just one thing after another.
“Having restrictive measures now is just adding more pain on everyone.”
Stewart says he too was taken by surprise by the changes, as he was not consulted by the province or Public Health beforehand.
“If there was consultation, I certainly would have been putting my foot on the gas, not the break, because I think there was a much greater opportunity to do something better.”
Sue Uteck with the Spring Garden Area Business Association says downtown businesses are already struggling from the latest streetscaping project underway. She too wants more clarity on what went into the decision.
“There’s a level of frustration from the merchants,” said Uteck. “(They’re saying) ‘how can a faith-based gathering have 150 people, or a sporting event, but yet I require my customers to be six metres apart?'”
As for Doherty, he says stronger communication is needed between Public Health and the restaurant association.
“All I want to do is just do my job and go home at the end of the day,” he said. “These restrictions make that really hard to do.”