B.C. Businesses Prepare to Open After Months Closed Due to Covid Restrictions
Recreational travel within the province and outdoor gatherings with up to 50 people is now allowed in B.C. as it moved ahead to the next step of its reopening plan.
Step 2 began on June 15 since case counts and hospitalizations have steadily dropped in recent weeks while vaccinations rose. Here are the changes to public health restrictions:
- Restrictions on travel within B.C. will be lifted.
- Liquor services at bars and restaurants will be extended to midnight.
- Children’s play dates can resume.
- Outdoor social gatherings will be allowed to include as many as 50 people, but indoor personal social gatherings will still be limited to five.
- Seated indoor organized gatherings will also be permitted, with up to 50 people.
- Movie theatres, banquet halls and live theatres will be able to reopen with limited capacity.
- Indoor sports games will be allowed.
- Spectators will be permitted at outdoor games.
- High-intensity fitness classes will resume with reduced capacity and safety plans in place.
- Indoor faith gatherings with up to 50 people, or 10 per cent of the building’s total capacity, whichever is greater.
Masks and physical distancing are still mandatory. Personal indoor gatherings must remain small: just one additional household or five other people. People who don’t live in B.C. are still asked to avoid travelling to the province.
B.C.’s reopening efforts began in May with relaxed restrictions on gatherings, sports events, and both indoor and outdoor dining. Step 3 is set to begin July 1, if case counts and vaccination rates continue trending in the right direction. The entire four-step plan could see virtually all public health restrictions lifted by Sept. 7.
Manitoba Businesses Asking for Financial Help to Make It Through Summer
Business owners and advocates are asking for more help and details now that the province has unveiled its reopening plan. “What we need right now is financial support to help these businesses get through the next couple of months, and then we can work together as a community to put together a strategy so we can come back,” said Kate Fenske, executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone (BIZ). Fenske says 47 out of 400 downtown storefront businesses have closed since March 2020, and she worries others could shutter if help doesn’t come soon.
Premier Brian Pallister has promised financial support for small businesses as part of the reopening plan. Fenske says she hasn’t seen anything specific yet.
The BIZ was able to dole out more than $180,000 in grants in money it saved from cancelled events, but that cash flow has run dry. Fenkse hopes the province will put out another round of bridge grants. “The last one came a month ago. We know there’s gonna be at least a few more months that businesses can’t operate at full capacity, so they’re going to need help through the summer.”
On top of financial help, Fenske says the province’s reopening plan lacks clarity on which businesses can open and when. The plan lists dates for reopening goals while mentioning some businesses can open. There are no specifics about which industries are included at what time.
“We have some target dates that we’re relying on people to get vaccinated so businesses can reopen, but we don’t know which businesses are going to be included in that,” said Fenske. “We understand the need for flexibility in the plan. Absolutely. But businesses really need to know will we be able to open on that July 1 or Aug. 1? Will their sector be included?”
The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce is also looking for more details about which sectors will be allowed to reopen and when, and how test positivity rates, hospitalization numbers and other COVID-19 markers will affect the province’s decisions — regardless of vaccine rates. A provincial spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny another round of grants and said provincial employees were working with business owners to support them right now.
Storefronts face silent streets
Things are slow across the district, according to Kidong Lim. He runs the convenience store INS Market in the underground concourse at 201 Portage Avenue. Lim says since the Bank of Montreal opened at Portage and Main, things have picked up a bit. But that doesn’t make up for how slow things have been since the pandemic started.
On Portage Avenue, Ruby Gill says she’s seen a 40% drop in her business at Metropolitan Dental Group. Some of that is from travel restrictions, while some of it is from a lack of workers downtown, she said. Less than 20% of workers who are normally in the area are still there, due to public health requiring employees work from home if possible.
Gill says she can still see a better future in downtown Winnipeg.”‘We’re just hopeful that once everyone starts taking their vaccines things will open up again,” she said. ” I’m optimistic things will return to the way they were.”
New Brunswick Enters Phase 1 of Path to Green
New Brunswick has hit its 75% first-dose vaccination target and will enter the first phase on the path toward the green level of COVID-19 recovery at midnight on June 15.
“We got ‘er done. … So one thumb up,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell, calling it an “incredible milestone.” The province can now begin to gradually reopen and loosen some restrictions, she said.
Among the changes under Phase 1 of the path to green, the steady 15 of contacts will be eliminated and people from Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Cumberland County in Nova Scotia, and Avignon and Témiscouata, Que., will be able to visit without the need to isolate or get tested. Cross-border commuters and truckers won’t be subject to isolation and testing requirements either.
“Not only have we reached the first phase, the second phase is within days and hours. And the third phase could be within a few, three weeks — far ahead of schedule — if we stay on track with what we’re doing,” Premier Blaine Higgs said. The province had originally hoped to reach the Phase 1 target on June 7, and fell just shy a week later at 74.8% on June 14.
Until Phase 3, when 75% of eligible New Brunswickers get their second dose, people must continue to follow Public Health measures such as wearing a mask in public, physical distancing, and regular hand washing, Russell advised. They should also continue to watch for COVID symptoms and get tested if any develop, even if they’re mild.
Russell said she’s “very encouraged” by the second-dose campaign so far. Nearly 12% of eligible New Brunswickers are now fully vaccinated. That includes 18% of New Brunswickers 65 or older.
The goal to move to Phase 2 is to have 20% of that age demographic vaccinated with two doses by July 1. “We expect that tens of thousands more will be fully vaccinated in the weeks ahead, said Russell, noting a record 26,000 people booked appointments online on June 14.
Among the changes under Phase 2, all Canadian travellers who have had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine will be allowed into the province without the need to isolate. Those who have not been vaccinated will also be allowed in but will be subject to isolation and testing requirements. Hospitalizations must remain low and all health zones must remain at the yellow COVID alert level to move to the next phase.
Higgs also expects to reach Phase 3, the full reopening, “weeks” before the scheduled Aug. 2, New Brunswick Day, provided people “stay focused” and “keep the momentum going.”
Ontario to Reopen Borders With Quebec and Manitoba
Ontario and Quebec have each announced restrictions on non-essential travel between the two provinces will end at 12:01 a.m. on June 16. The order banning non-essential travel between the two provinces went into effect in April.
Since then, provincial and local police have intermittently staffed checkpoints at interprovincial crossings and have issued tickets or turned around motorists who don’t have essential work, medical or humanitarian reasons to travel between regions.
This also marks the end of Quebec’s rule requiring residents returning from Ontario to self-isolate for 14 days.
In an interview with Radio-Canada, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he hadn’t seen evidence the restrictions between Ottawa and Gatineau helped curb COVID-19 cases in the region. He said the city would bill the provincial government what it cost to operate the checkpoints, which he estimates to be more than $600,000.
Western Quebec moved to yellow zone rules on June 14, allowing some indoor dining and gatherings between households to resume. Ontario is currently in Step 1 of its reopening plan.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said in a statement that Ontario will not extend the order that restricted non-essential travel between the provinces. It is set to expire at 12:01 a.m. ET on June 16. Travel restrictions between Ontario and Manitoba will also be lifted. Those entering Ontario “must continue to follow the public health measures in place in the province,” Jones said.