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Ontario reintroduces 50% capacity restrictions amid Omicron surge

·4 min read
Ontario reintroduces 50% capacity restrictions amid Omicron surge

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a series of new restrictions on Friday, reducing social gathering limits and capacity limits in indoor settings like restaurants and bars, as the provinces grapples with a wave of the Omicron variant.

The province will apply a 50 per cent capacity limit in indoor settings including restaurants, bars, gyms, retailers including grocery stores, shopping malls, personal care services and other indoor recreational amenities. Ontario will also reduce social gathering limits to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

Restaurants and bars will also be required to stop selling alcohol by 10 p.m. and close by 11 p.m. The number of customers allowed to sit at a table will also be limited to 10 people.

The new restrictions will not apply to venues being used for weddings, funerals or other religious ceremonies. The new restrictions go into effect at midnight on Sunday.

"Nothing will stop the spread of Omicron, it is just too transmissible. What we can do and what we're doing is slowing it as much as possible to allow more time for shots to get into arms," Ford said at a press conference on Friday afternoon.

"This variant is unlike anything we've seen. If we don't take every single precaution we can, the modelling tells a scary story."

The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly in Ontario, and will soon replace the Delta variant as the dominant strain in the province. Ontario's Science Advisory Table warned on Thursday that increasing vaccinations will not be enough to slow down the virus, and that strong additional public health measures with strong booster campaigns are needed to blunt the Omicron wave.

Ford added that the decision to limit social gatherings particularly during the holiday season, was "an extremely difficult one to make." He also acknowledged the toll the measures will have on businesses during what is often a crucial period, particularly for retailers.

"That's why Ontario joins Quebec's call for the federal government to expand supports for businesses and workers, and we're prepared to do our part as well," Ford said.

Groups representing small businesses in Canada have already expressed opposition to a new wave of capacity restrictions. Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said in an interview many businesses are unlikely to survive another round of restrictions.

"Lockdowns and even capacity restrictions should be an absolute last resort," Kelly said.

"I think it's very easy for people who have just had to deal with the inconveniences of COVID-19 restrictions to recommend moving back to restrictions. But if your income has dried up, if you are living hand-to-mouth, if your business and entire future was failing as a result of these restrictions, there may be different attitudes. But that's what our members are facing."

Kelly urged the province – as well as the federal government – to reverse the scaling back of COVID-19 support programs, given the new restrictions and concern about the Omicron variant.

"We desperately need to get some additional supports in place at this moment," he said.

"Just the noise that the government and public health officials are making about Omicron is already causing severe economic damage... this has giant economic consequences."

Ontario Chamber of Commerce president Rocco Rossi echoed Kelly's concerns and said Ontario's restrictions "should be met with targeted relief and proportionate support programs, loan forgiveness, and extensions on payment terms, particularly for small businesses who are still struggling at this time."

"While we appreciate the rapid rise of Omicron was unexpected as we were all looking forward to Ontario’s reopening, we call on the Government of Ontario to reduce uncertainty in the business community and develop a long-term plan outlining how the province intends to support those impacted by new public health measures," Rossi said in a statement.

"Given the rapidly shifting backdrop, clarity and transparency on specific metrics that inform the government’s decision to impose or ease restrictions are paramount for business confidence and continuity.”

Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said the government is looking at providing targeted support but provided no additional detailers, saying the province will "have something to say in the very near future."

Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.

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