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‘Harder to hear’ this time: London, Ont. businesses brace for impact of new restrictions

Click to play video: 'New round of COVID restrictions begin on Wednesday in Ontario' New round of COVID restrictions begin on Wednesday in Ontario
2022 is starting off the way nobody wanted. In Ontario, a new round of COVID-19 restrictions and closures begin on Wednesday aimed at blunting the spread of the Omicron variant. It’s a tough pill to swallow for businesses already barely hanging on. Morganne Campbell has more. – Jan 4, 2022

Those in the restaurant and live events industry are no stranger to COVID-19-related restrictions, but Budweiser Gardens’ general manager says after returning to full capacity in the fall, it’s a harsh sting to have to close again.

Several new public health measures, including prohibiting indoor dining at restaurants and closing concert venues, were announced by the province on Monday and came into effect just after midnight Wednesday.

Read more: Online learning, business closures, restrictions and surgery reductions begin again in Ontario

“If you ask my staff and you ask the team, it’s harder to hear (this time around),” Brian Ohl told Global News.

Having returned to full capacity after the previous restrictions, Ohl said his team had felt optimistic that things were moving along again. Only now, he said, you “get the rug pulled out from underneath you again.”

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Local restaurateur Mike Smith, who owns Joe Kool’s and Toboggan Brewing Co., said he’s a “little frustrated” but “there’s not much you can do about it.”

While takeout and delivery are still permitted, Smith said that accounts for “such a small portion of the total sales of a restaurant,” which still has to pay rent, property taxes, utilities and any fixed salaries.

Read more: A list of the new COVID-19 measures that will take effect on Wednesday in Ontario

“Our business has been around for years — we don’t have the debt. But I look at, say, somebody that started out a couple of years ago and they’ve got a mortgage at home and a loan on their business, and they need the income, I don’t know how they’ll survive.”

Smith added that for employees too, he worries over their ability to “put food on the table or pay the rent,” as well as their mental health.

Some financial supports are available for those impacted, including an expanded rebate program from the province for businesses impacted by the closures as well as expanded eligibility for the federal government’s $300-a-week Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit.

The new restrictions come just as Joe Kools was set to reopen following a voluntary, self-imposed closure for the typically busy weeks before and after Christmas.

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Click to play video: 'Omicron cases pushing Ontario hospitals to the brink on both capacity and staffing' Omicron cases pushing Ontario hospitals to the brink on both capacity and staffing
Omicron cases pushing Ontario hospitals to the brink on both capacity and staffing – Jan 4, 2022

As for Budweiser Gardens, Ohl said the facility is not able to offer ice rentals so, aside from London Knights practices, it’s basically shut down.

He added that the Knights are in communication with the Ontario Hockey League and the Middlesex-London Health Unit “to make sure we understand what the ramifications are.”

When it comes to concerts, Ohl said the venue already began moving events scheduled for January when capacity limits were re-introduced in mid-December.

Country music star Dierks Bentley cancelled his concert and Ohl said refunds have been issued. Other events will be moved to new dates.

“It’s not like they’re just moving one date,” Ohl said, explaining that in some cases, the artists have had to move 40 other dates as well.

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Read more: U.K. health system under ‘extreme pressure’ amid Omicron surge

He recommended ticket-holders keep checking Budweiser Gardens’ website or their email for updates. For those who have given tickets as gifts, he’s hoping they can pass on any updates they receive.

Once new dates are announced, he said there’s usually about a 30-day window for people to request a refund.

“If a show gets cancelled like Dierks, we will automatically refund.”

“There are some that maybe they paid in cash and we don’t have their email or whatever, then we’ll try to hunt them down to get them their refund.”

Read more: Canada sending 140M rapid COVID-19 tests to provinces, territories in January

Tourism London general manager Cheryl Finn said she is worried businesses won’t last through this lockdown.

“No one saw this coming. We were very fortunate to see a very quick and significant recovery over the summer, but of course with Omicron, now that is not the case,” Finn said.

“As much as we have been saying it from day one, support local: support your local restaurant by ordering takeout, use the restaurant directly, and don’t use a third party ordering system.”

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The public health measures are intended to blunt the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, which has started to result in a rise in hospitalizations and patients in ICUs as well as staff absences due to COVID-19 infections and exposures.

As of Tuesday, London Health Sciences Centre reported it was caring for 59 inpatients with COVID-19, with 10 in critical care, and had 210 active cases among staff members.

— with files from Global News’ Gabby Rodrigues and Rachel Gilmore as well as The Canadian Press’ Holly McKenzie-Sutter and Tara Deschamps

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