COVID-19: Retail Council calls foul over New Brunswick reopening dates

Click to play video: 'Is New Brunswick reopening plan good for business?'
Is New Brunswick reopening plan good for business?
WATCH: New Brunswick will take its first steps towards reopening Monday with the elimination of vaccination requirements at restaurants, gyms and theatres. The retail council says that leaves other businesses behind. – Feb 25, 2022

The Retail Council of Canada is questioning New Brunswick’s decision to pull vaccination requirements, while waiting until March 14 to lift restrictions affecting retailers.

Jim Cormier, director of government relations in the council’s Atlantic office, says that’s unfair.

“You could conceivably be shoulder-to-shoulder with your friends out at a karaoke bar, singing, drinking, having a great time, jammed in,” says Cormier.

“Two stores away you may have an independent, main street retailer that only has maybe three employees and has been struggling for the last two years to get by — they still can’t allow more than one or two people into their shop.”

Premier Blaine Higgs and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell made the announcement Thursday afternoon.

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You won’t need to show proof of vaccination at places like restaurants, theatres and gyms as of 12:01 a.m. Monday, but capacity limits, mask requirements, etc., remain in effect at those places, as they do at retail establishments until the mandatory order is lifted on March 14.

Cormier says that some businesses will see an increase in patronage with the removal of vaccination requirements, while retail establishments are left waiting.

“It’s the principle that for two weeks you’re targeting the retail sector,” he says, “and there could be challenging situations that arise because of it – on the economic side and the social side.”

Socially, he says retail workers who have dealt with unruly patrons opposed to the rules they are made to enforce could see that worsen with the theoretical end in sight.

“The government is, I hope inadvertently, putting a target on the retail sector to say, ‘Hey, for all of you that still have problems, if you’re an anti-vaxxer, anti-masker, an anti-social-distancer, there’s only one sector that’s still going to force you to do any of the distancing rules.’ And that’s the retail sector,” Cormier says.

At her shop uptown in Saint John, Pam Wheaton says she hasn’t had any of those negative interactions yet, but that this winter has been particularly slow.

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“After Christmas it’s always a bit quiet,” says Wheaton, who owns Heartbreak Boutique — and co-owns Obscurity — on Germain Street.

“The weather hasn’t helped, but going into Level 3? We felt that.”

Level 3 of the province’s Winter Alert Plan ended at the end of January and now the plan as a whole will dissolve along with the mandatory order in a few weeks.

Wheaton says she does expect that will positively impact business.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a huge boom right away, but I do think it will definitely improve things,” she says.

The timing of that mid-March reopening, also called into question by some experts who say it’s too much, too soon.

“Every time we go and do it, it’s too early and then we end up with another outbreak,” says epidemiologist Susanne Gulliver.

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick to lift all COVID-19 restrictions'
New Brunswick to lift all COVID-19 restrictions

Dr. Russell acknowledged in her Thursday remarks a spike after lifting restrictions is likely, and Gulliver says the fact that St. Patrick’s Day is three days later isn’t going to help.

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“Drunk people are terrible at social distancing,” says Gulliver.

“Waiting until after that weekend to lift restrictions would’ve been a much better idea.”

At Heartbreak Boutique, Wheaton says she hopes more people going to bars and restaurants — for St. Patrick’s Day and after the vaccine requirements are scrapped Monday — could lead to a spike in shoppers.

“Restaurants and bars have been so hard-hit I’ll be thrilled to see them get some business back,” she says.

“And, honestly, it will probably help a little bit because people will be out Uptown eating and milling around.”

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