Toronto

Restaurants Canada upset after capacity limits lifted for sporting, concert venues but not eateries

Restaurants Canada says it's "extremely disappointed" that the Ontario government has chosen to lift capacity limits in some venues, but not for the "hardest-hit" food service industry.

Organization says 'it's beyond comprehension' thousands allowed into arenas when eateries restricted

Patrons dine inside a Toronto restaurant on Sept. 22, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Restaurants Canada says it's "extremely disappointed" that the Ontario government has chosen to lift capacity limits in some venues, but not for the "hardest-hit" food service industry.

As of Saturday morning, cinemas, theatres, concert and spectator sports venues and car and horse racing tracks are allowed to open at full capacity.

The province says there have been few outbreaks in the selected settings and most other public health measures such as masks remain in place.

Capacity rules remain in place in other places requiring proof of vaccination such as gyms and restaurants.

"I was really surprised," James Rilett, vice president, Central Canada, for Restaurants Canada, said on Saturday.

"We had been talking to the government for weeks about trying to get the restrictions lifted because of the vaccine passport. They had given us all the good signals that it might happen. They hadn't said so right out, but they did indicate that there was a chance that it would happen."

Rillet said the industry had pointed out to the Ford government how much revenue it is losing because the vaccine passport requires extra staff to ask for it and to check it.

Now, he added, it doesn't make sense that thousands of people can go to the Rogers Centre, and scream without masks, yet they cannot sit down and have a quiet dinner without distance restrictions in place.

"We don't understand what the difference is. We're not saying that they shouldn't be open. We're saying that if they are open, we should be as well."

Friends enjoy a drink together at the Princess Thai restaurant in downtown Toronto on Friday, June 18, 2021. (Sam Nar/CBC) (Sam Nar/CBC)

Restaurant owners are calling and emailing their MPPs to express their frustration, he added. Restrictions on restaurants have been lifted in other provinces, he noted.

Restaurants Canada has called on the province to immediately lift all further restrictions on the industry and provide additional support to recognize the cost of implementing the vaccine passport program.

Mohamad Fakih, CEO of Paramount Fine Foods, echoed these remarks on social media, saying while safe reopening is the No. 1 priority, restaurants and small businesses are being "scapegoated and penalized."

Ontario continues to 'single out' food industry, group says

In a statement issued Friday, the national, non-profit association representing Canada's restaurant and food service industry says it doesn't understand why the food industry continues to be "singled out" by the Ontario government.

"It is beyond comprehension that 20,000 people can cram into an arena, scream, and closely congregate without masks, while restaurants must adhere to strict distancing regulations which severely restrict the number of customers that can be served," Restaurants Canada wrote.

The association says the restaurant industry was the first to be closed during the onset of COVID-19, has suffered the longest closures and the "deepest restrictions" throughout the pandemic.

It is calling on the province to immediately lift all further restrictions on the industry and provide additional support to recognize the cost of implementing the vaccine passport program.

Premier Doug Ford addresses the media at Queens Park, in Toronto, on Sept. 22, 2021. The Ontario government says it's making the capacity limit changes based on high vaccination rates, stable public health indicators and the vaccine certificate policy. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Ontario government says it's making the capacity limit changes based on high vaccination rates, stable public health indicators and the vaccine certificate policy.

In a statement on Saturday, the Ontario health ministry defended the government's decision.

"Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments do not have hard capacity limits, but rather are limited to the number of people that can maintain physical distancing. That is because they are higher risk settings — prolonged close contact in enclosed spaces where face coverings are removed for the entire duration when seated," Alex Hilkene, spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said in an email.

"Indoor fitness classes and personal training are also a higher risk setting where face coverings are removed during physical activity," she continued.

"The Chief Medical Officer of Health will continue to monitor the data and evaluate when it may be safe to consider lifting limits in other settings that require proof of vaccination."

Physical distancing requirements are lifting along with capacity limits with some exceptions such as indoor meeting and event spaces, which must still maintain two metres between people.

Expert says decision is 'perplexing'

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases specialist, told CBC's News Network on Saturday that the change in capacity limits for some venues but not for others is puzzling.

"It is still a little bit perplexing why this wasn't extended out to things like gyms and restaurants," Chagla said.

Chagla noted that masks are still supposed to be worn by patrons at sport facilities, where capacity limits have been increased.

"But I think all of us who have seen the Blue Jays game have realized that the mask isn't always on in those venues. I think hopefully this is just a test to see whether or not this works, and hopefully it can be extended out further."

Chagla said he believes the change is as a result of the vaccination rate.

"A vaccinated society and using vaccine mandates gives us a lot of ability to be flexible about getting things to normal." 
 

With files from CBC's Dale Manucdoc

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