Ontario businesses, workers ‘disappointed’ with new round of COVID-19 restrictions

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Ontario introduces multiple new restrictions to help contain Omicron spread'
COVID-19: Ontario introduces multiple new restrictions to help contain Omicron spread
WATCH: Ontario introduces multiple new restrictions to help contain Omicron spread – Jan 3, 2022

TORONTO — Ontario business owners were fretting about the future of their companies as workers braced for layoffs after the province levied new COVID-19 measures forcing some to close their doors temporarily and others to limit visitors.

The latest public health measures announced by Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Monday require restaurants and bars to halt indoor dining and cease selling alcohol after 10 p.m. starting on Wednesday.

Retail settings, including shopping malls and personal care services, must reduce their capacity to 50 per cent, while indoor concert venues, theatres, cinemas, museums, galleries and other attractions are required to close.

Read more: Ontario moves schools to online learning, bans indoor dining and issues new COVID capacity restrictions

The policies meant to curtail the province’s soaring COVID-19 cases are expected to remain in place until at least Jan. 26, but businesses fear even three weeks of closures will result in lost income and layoffs and exacerbate existing labour shortages and mounting costs.

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“I’m just in the middle of nowhere right now. I am really disappointed,” said Andy Page, the owner of Tomyum Restaurant and Wine Bar in Toronto.

“Every day I open my eyes and I see a whole bunch of bills just waiting for me to pay and a lot of people ask me why I still carry on. To be honest, it’s because I have no backup plan.”

More weeks closed will mean the bills — already high from rising inflation rates — will mount even further and Page will have to work harder to retain the staff he managed to hire in a tight labour market.

Read more: Restaurant group slams Ontario’s latest COVID restrictions on foodservice industry

The Ontario government tried to ease some of those financial tensions on Monday with an expanded rebate program for businesses affected by the new slate of closures.

Certain businesses ordered to close will be reimbursed for 100 per cent of property tax and energy costs, it said, while ones required to reduce capacity to 50 per cent will receive a rebate payment for half those expenses.

Since Ford’s announcement was made, Page said his phone has constantly been pinging with messages from staff members worried about their jobs and curious about what his plan is to keep the business alive through the temporary closures.

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Page will offer takeout and use UberEats for delivery but he admits neither makes enough money to replace being able to serve a full dining room.

He’s just keeping takeout going because it will help him retain customers and keep his staff from hunting for jobs elsewhere.

“I am already taking money from my RRSP to pay my staff, but I hope they can understand I’m not going to pay them as much as before,” he said.

Ryan Duncan, who works as a server at a restaurant in Toronto, said he’s expecting a layoff notice from his workplace this week.

“I’ve got lots of friends in the industry and we’re all kind of just waiting to see when the other shoe drops,” he said.

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“We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, how long this layoff and closure could last, and where the financial supports are going to be coming from.”

Read more: Ontario families scramble as Omicron forces 2-week school closure

Duncan was previously laid off at the start of the pandemic and used government relief payments to stay afloat, but said he incurred “a bit of debt” trying to keep food on the table and his bills paid.

With another layoff, he said he’d take things “day by day,” but if he’s out of work for a long period of time, he could be “forced” to leave the industry and possibly leave Toronto.

“There is no long-term planning available right now because there is just no way of knowing what’s going to happen in the next month,” Duncan added.

While Duncan is watching to see if he will lose his job again, some employers were already acting on layoff plans.

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Landmark Cinemas, Canada’s second-biggest movie theatre chain, said the new measures will have a “significant financial impact,” forcing it to once again layoff hundreds of part-time employees during its mandated closure

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“We are supportive of the government’s objective to slow the spread of this variant and sincerely hope the closure will be limited to three weeks,” the theatre operator said in an email.

The country’s largest movie chain, Cineplex Inc., also hopes the closures of 67 of its theatres will be as short as possible.

Cinemas have already faced several rounds of pandemic closures and seen film releases moved by distributors to later in hopes of drawing bigger crowds.

After Ford closed cinemas once more, Cineplex said it would offer full refunds to customers who had booked tickets in advance.

— with files from Noushin Ziafati and David Friend in Toronto

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