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A not-so-jolly holiday season for London, Ont. establishments as COVID-19 restrictions reintroduced

Click to play video: 'Ontario caps capacity for several indoor settings amid spread of Omicron'
Ontario caps capacity for several indoor settings amid spread of Omicron
Small businesses are once again being hit by public health restrictions as the Omicron variant continues to spread across the province. The Ford government announced that capacity and hours will be capped beginning Sunday. As Brittany Rosen reports, business owners hope it isn't a sign of more to come. – Dec 18, 2021

It’s that time of year when London, Ont., bars would usually be packed with patrons, but establishments say they’re not expecting that this holiday season.

Ontario has reintroduced COVID-19 restrictions for restaurants, bars, and other establishments, amid a rise in cases and the Omicron variant.

As of Sunday, bars and restaurants must operate at 50 per cent capacity and close by 11 p.m. A maximum of 10 people are allowed to sit at a table, and alcohol is restricted after 10 p.m.

Read more: Ontario announces new restrictions in response to Omicron COVID variant

For Fatty Patty’s manager Tatiana Tarevski, the new restrictions felt like moving back a few steps.

“It’s disappointing because it feels like just when things were starting to head into the direction of normalcy, here we are again with limitations.”

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“We were finally getting busier (these) past few months, the way it used to be before COVID,” she continued. “We were having busy nights and busy lunches. The capacity is discouraging and it’s going to set us back for sure.”

With 186 seats in the restaurant, Tarevski said operating at 50 per cent capacity is still better than February when London and Middlesex were in the “red zone.” During that time, restaurants and bars were only allowed a maximum of 10 patrons at a time.

Read more: Ontario hits ‘pause’ again on lifting remaining capacity limits at higher-risk settings

Jim Karaouzas, the owner of Jimbo’s Pub and Eatery, said he also fears returning to a time with stricter restrictions and possibly another lockdown.

Karaouzas said the new restrictions that came into effect Sunday morning won’t help his restaurant, which hasn’t had more business in recent months.

“Am I happy with it? I mean, of course not, but what can we do?” he said. “If it slows down and we don’t get any (government) support, we’re going to have to lay people off.”

Karaouzas said that prior to COVID-19, his pub was popular on karaoke nights, which were held twice a week. They have been held once a week since COVID-19 began. Yet with one of the new restrictions limiting dancing and another requiring all patrons to be seated, Karaouzas isn’t sure if karaoke nights can continue.

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As for Tarevski, she said she’s unsure if and how holiday get-togethers can move forward in light of the new restrictions.

“We booked a couple of (large) events, and now, we’re going to have to make adjustments, call those people back that haven’t had their get-togethers yet, and have them adjust their plans,” she said.

The 50 per cent capacity restriction impacts more than bars and restaurants. It also impacts retailers.

In downtown London, the owner of a clothing store said the new restrictions don’t have much of an impact on her business.

“Since COVID, we haven’t had a store jam-packed anyway, so it’s not something we’ll have a problem with,” said Sharon Lehman, the owner of LifeStyles. “We’ve never really had 50 per cent capacity since COVID began.”

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Read more: Ontario health units issue new COVID-19 recommendations as cases rise

Lehman said she was optimistic these past few months as her business got busier, but not busier than pre-COVID times.

She says her worst fear is another lockdown, which took place last year right after Christmas.

The clothing store owner said her shop will be open on Boxing Day this year, and she’ll be monitoring the 50 per cent capacity rule more closely that day.

“I’ll be at the door to ensure we’re not allowing too many people in the store at once on Boxing Day, because usually, that’s a higher-traffic day, the 26th and 27th.”

Capacity limits, restrictions on food and drink service, and gathering size caps were announced Friday.

A Global News story published Friday provides more details on the restrictions.

— with files from Global News’ Ryan Rocca

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