Toronto

Some Ontarians applaud province's reopening plan for patios, while others say it's long overdue

Some restaurateurs are breathing a sigh of relief following the announcement of Ontario's three-step reopening plan, which allows bar and restaurant patios to begin operating again in mid-June, but some Ontarians say the move is long overdue. 

'Patios should be thriving right now,' restaurant consultant says

Ontario's three-step reopening plan aims to see bar and restaurant patios in operation again by the week of June 14. Phase 1 includes permitting outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people and outdoor dining with a limit of four people per table.  (Sam Nar/CBC)

Some restaurateurs are breathing a sigh of relief following the announcement of Ontario's three-step reopening plan, which allows bar and restaurant patios to operate again by mid-June, but some Ontarians say the move is long overdue. 

Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday that he hopes to start Phase 1 of the reopening plan by the week of June 14. This includes permitting outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people and outdoor dining with a limit of four people per table. 

The announcement was welcome news to Patrick Marzouk, the owner of Regulars Bar on King Street West. 

"It was a feeling of relief," he told CBC News following the announcement, adding that he's very excited to make Toronto residents "feel human and normal once again."

Marzouk says he's been ready to reopen his patio ever since the province ordered them to shut down just weeks after allowing them to reopen amid the devastating third wave of the pandemic. 

But David Hopkins, president of restaurant consulting firm The Fifteen Group, maintains outdoor dining should have been open much sooner, citing relatively low outdoor transmission of COVID-19. 

"I'm definitely not excited about how long it's taken to get patios open," said Hopkins.

"We should already be open. Patios should be thriving right now," he said, adding that programs like CafeTO should be "off to the races" instead of sitting idle. 

Food industry has 'been through the wringer'

The Ford government says the plan is to have at least 60 per cent of people vaccinated before the first phase of the reopening plan. To date, Ontario's Minister of Health Christine Elliott says the province is at 58 per cent. 

"We're already at 58 per cent," said Elliott at Thursday's news conference. "We should be at 65 per cent of all Ontarians well before the end of May."

Ford says the plan to lift public health restrictions will be based on vaccination rates and other key public health and health-care indicators. The province says each phase of the reopening plan will be evaluated over a span of 21 days before moving to the next phase. 

Marzouk says he is confident in this plan because the province is "caught up now" with vaccines. 

Patrick Marzouk, the owner of Regulars Bar on King Street West, says he was relieved to hear that patios are being permitted to reopen. He says he is confident in the reopening plan because the province is 'caught up now' with vaccines.  (CBC)

"It's definitely a relief to see that and I think that this time around, we're going to be opening and we're going to stay open," he said. 

Hopkins says the food industry has "been though the wringer" throughout the pandemic, noting the impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns on the hospitality sector. While he is confident that business will run smoothly for restaurants as more people get immunized, but he says restaurants will still struggle under this plan. 

"I think the biggest concern is that restaurants are still struggling and this reopening plan it's a pretty lengthy plan ... We have to hit some big [vaccination] numbers for restaurants to largely succeed this summer. It's a bit disappointing," he said. 

Residents weigh in 

CBC News spoke to some Toronto residents, including James Darch, who says it's high time patios and the city as a whole begins to reopen. 

"I think people are excited to ... stop feeling anything we do is almost breaking the rules," he said, citing the restrictions on outdoor and indoor gatherings, 

Bryanna Blackwell, meanwhile, is concerned about what the reopening of bar patios could mean for residents who may flout COVID-19 safety measures after a few drinks.

"The crowds of people who have been drinking all night, and obviously at that point masks are off, distance doesn't matter. So there's a little bit of that that I'm concerned about," she said. 

Bryanna Blackwell, meanwhile, says she's worried the reopening of bar patios could mean patrons will flout COVID-19 safety measures after a few drinks.  (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, Regulars Bar owner Marzouk says he and his staff will follow strict COVID-19 safety protocols, including temperature checks for all staff, wearing masks, spacing out tables to maintain distances of six feet from other patrons and sanitization of tables and chairs after use. 

As vaccine numbers go up and case numbers wane, Marzouk says he hopes the government will loosen the four-person cap on tables. 

"Right now, I'm just happy and excited to be open." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sabrina Jonas is a Montreal-based journalist with a particular interest in social justice issues and human interest stories. Sabrina previously worked at CBC Toronto after graduating from Ryerson's School of Journalism. Drop her an email at sabrina.jonas@cbc.ca

With files from Dalia Ashry and The Canadian Press

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