British Columbia

B.C. businesses want safe reopenings, even if it means taking extra time

British Columbia's economic restart got off to a slow and steady pace, with business owners and operators saying they would rather take their time to protect customers and employees from COVID-19 than open their doors too early.

Owners, operators cite lack of PPE and worry about 2nd wave of COVID-19 as reasons for caution

Diners wait for service at a reopened restaurant patio in Vancouver. While some businesses are now serving customers under new health and safety guidelines, others are keeping their doors shut for financial reasons and fear that another wave of the virus will warrant another closure. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

British Columbia's economic restart got off to a slow and steady pace, with business owners and operators saying they would rather take their time to protect customers and employees from COVID-19 than open their doors too early.

B.C. government operating restrictions placed on restaurants, pubs and some personal and health services, including hair stylists and dentists, were lifted Tuesday due to the province's successful effort slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

But some business operators and owners were planning to reopen later this month or in June.

"We'd rather be a couple days later with this than do the wrong thing a couple days early,'' said Greg McAuley, an operator of 10 Tim Hortons franchises in Metro Vancouver.

McAuley said preparations were still underway to ensure his outlets can safely accommodate and protect customers and staff when they begin seating customers. Tim Hortons and many other B.C. restaurants have been operating with take-out and delivery services since health restrictions closed their seating areas two months ago.

Greg McAuley, an operator of 10 Tim Hortons franchises in Metro Vancouver, says every employee and service representative who enters a Tim Hortons will have their temperature checked for the presence of fever and they must wear masks. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

McAuley said he expected two of his outlets in Surrey and Langley to reopen fully Wednesday and the others are expected to be running by the end of the week.

Every employee and service representative who enters a Tim Hortons will have their temperature checked for the presence of fever and they must wear masks, he said. All employees will wear masks and gloves during their shifts and the cashier areas inside the restaurant and the drive-through will have protective Plexiglas shields, McAuley said.

The seating areas, cashier zones and other high-touch locations in the restaurant will undergo frequent cleaning, he said.

"The response we've had from our guests has been terrific,'' said McAuley about the protective measures.

Sorry, we're closed

Brian Grant, owner of Resurrection Spirits in East Vancouver, said he is not planning to open his distillery anytime soon and could wait as long as September to welcome patrons back.

Grant is worried that if he lays out the money now for stock and staff to be able to reopen, and a second wave of COVID-19 cases happens and forces a second closure, his business would not recover.

With reduced seating mandated in B.C. restaurants, bars and tasting rooms, smaller businesses fear it won't make financial sense to open their doors. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Right now, Resurrection Spirits is producing and selling hand sanitizer, which is bringing in some revenue.

If Grant were to reopen and reduce capacity in the distillery's tasting room in accordance with provincial health guidelines, he figures he could not make enough "just to keep the doors open, let alone make a profit."

He also said it would be unfair to staff who would be taking home far less tip money than before the pandemic.

PPE hard to find

Penticton, B.C., barber Thomas Hart said he's not reopening his business until at least June 2 to allow him to secure scarce personal protective equipment for customers and staff.

Hart said the pandemic has resulted in a shortage of the blue disinfectant product Barbicide that barbers use to clean their tools and work areas. He said he currently has a two-week supply of the product.

"Right now, we're in a standstill if we can even open by June 2, which is what we've communicated to our customers,'' said Hart, who represents a newly formed coalition of about 300 barbers.

Some barber shops around B.C. have reopened but some are concerned about a lack of available personal protective equipment. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Vancouver restaurateur Iori Kataoka, owner of Yuwa Fine Japanese, said she is also struggling to find personal protective equipment for her staff, as well as Plexiglas to install in some spots in the restaurant between employees and customers.

"It's very expensive to get what we need," said Kataoka on CBC's The Early Edition on Wednesday, adding Plexiglas was three times higher than she expected to pay.

Kataoka is now biding her time before opening back up to the public, hoping for protective gear and waiting to see how well establishments who have reopened will fare.

Risk assessment

WorkSafeBC said before reopening businesses must have a COVID-19 safety plan to protect workers and it must be displayed. Last week the provincial safety agency set guidelines including the number of people allowed in a business, and controlling entry and exit points.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday she's confident B.C. can continue to flatten the COVID-19 curve, but the province must act slowly.

"For employees, customers and business owners, I want to reassure you that we would not be easing these restrictions if we did not feel we could do so safely,'' she said.

David Green, a University of B.C. economics professor, said the timing of the economic restart makes sense.

Green said he was part of a team at the university's Vancouver School of Economics that created a tool to assess the risks and benefits of reopening different sectors of B.C.'s economy amid the pandemic.

The tool can analyze the benefits of reopening the economy relative to the virus transmission risk in more than 300 occupations in over 100 industries, he said.

Occupations with the greatest COVID-19 risk are dentists, dental hygienists, physiotherapists, doctors, and nurses, according to David Green, a University of B.C. economics professor. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

He said the tool places barbers and hair stylists as high-risk occupations with regards to COVID-19. Restaurant managers are also at high risk because managers interact regularly with employees, customers and other service providers.

Among the riskiest occupations are dentists, dental hygienists, physiotherapists, doctors, and nurses, said Green.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

With files from The Early Edition

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