Nova Scotia businesses, organizations gear up for next round of reopening
Province enters Phase 2 Monday; complete reopening scheduled for March 21
It's been a long time coming, but Nova Scotia businesses and organizations are prepared to welcome the last two phases of reopening.
Restrictions were further loosened on Monday when the province entered Phase 2. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 will need to isolate for seven days, but they do not have to notify close contacts outside their home.
Those who are close contacts and do not have symptoms no longer have to isolate.
A complete reopening — Phase 3 — is scheduled for March 21, and that's what many businesses are focused on.
Gordon Stewart, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia, said restaurants operate on thin margins and are looking ahead to March 21 when they can operate at full capacity.
He said staffing is a major issue that will have to be tackled.
There was a shortage of labour in the hospitality industry even before the pandemic, he said.
He said Nova Scotia is probably short around 5,000 employees in the sector to be able to return to full capacity.
He said many restaurants will have to adjust opening days and hours because of staffing shortages.
He said restaurants are going to need to make changes to stay alive.
"Besides the labour and the COVID issue, you have major other issues," he said. "The highest food prices ever, highest gas prices ever for shipping, supply-line issues, and it just goes on."
He said increased food costs will mean that restaurants will have no choice but to increase prices by up to 10 per cent.
He said another challenge with the removal of restrictions will be the issue of proof of vaccination at restaurants.
Stewart said he expects some people won't go to a restaurant that doesn't require proof of vaccination.
Restaurants can make their own health and safety policies around that issue, he said, but he expects that concern will settle down in a few weeks.
Paul MacKinnon, the CEO of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, shares Stewart's view that the changes on Monday will not make a big difference to restaurants.
He also thinks it will have little impact on stores, but said it will certainly make a difference for bars.
He said later opening hours and the return of dancing will certainly help that sector.
According to MacKinnon, restrictions like vaccine passports and masks slowed things down and put an enforcement burden on businesses. But ultimately, he said, it was the ongoing uncertainty about the pandemic that had the biggest impact.
What businesses really want from the province, MacKinnon said, is a "confidence campaign."
"There really is a bit of a shared responsibility to bring the economy back and especially for those smaller businesses that have really been hammered for the past two years," MacKinnon said.
"We're hoping that we can get back to a situation which is … normal, or if not, even better than normal."
At Events East, which handles the Scotiabank Centre and the Halifax Convention Centre, marketing director Erin Esiyok-Prime said the prospect of having a full house at both venues is exciting.
She said the hospitality industry faces challenges when it comes to staff but her organization will be working with industry partners to attract people back.
According to Esiyok-Prime, the focus remains on ensuring the health and safety of events for their clients, guests and staff.
"At the end of the day, we want everyone to feel comfortable, so we will certainly respect the wishes of our fans and our guests," she said.
The convention centre starts to get busy at the end of March, she said, and will stay busy throughout the summer.
Grappling with the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 restrictions has proven to be a challenge for many religious institutions.
Rev. Susan Chisholm, minister at St. Andrew's United Church in Halifax, said the church will fully reopen on March 21 but will continue to allow members of the congregation to attend remotely.
"We will continue our sort of hybrid approach, which is live streaming and in-person that's been going on as long as we've been allowed to be together. And we've actually gotten really good at it," she said.
"It's kind of this gift, this silver lining, of having been forced to be more creative and more flexible in how we help people to be part of what we do."
She said a section will be set aside in the church with seats spaced two metres apart for people who want more physical distance.
Chisholm said masks will not be required in the building. Signs will be put up to let people know it is perfectly fine for them to wear a mask if they wish.
Despite keeping the live stream going as a permanent part of services, Chisholm said there is always a deeper connection and "action of the spirit" when people are in close physical proximity.
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