LILLEY: Time to give small biz a fighting chance

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As we head into the Thanksgiving weekend, Ontario is a long way from the chaos, confusion and lockdown measures that we saw last year. In the lead-up to the holiday in 2020, there were warnings about keeping celebrations virtual or just with your own household.

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We even saw restaurants shut down in Toronto and Peel on the Friday of that weekend shocking many.

“The alarm bells are ringing louder and louder,” the chief medical officer Dr. David Williams said a year ago.

Those comments were just before the province brought in new restrictions as case counts and hospitalizations were on the rise.

On Oct. 7, 2020, there were 583 new COVID cases reported and the seven-day average was 605 cases. There were 225 people in hospital and 47 in ICU but all indicators were pointing to an upswing in COVID which came within weeks.

A year later, the province reported 587 new cases and a seven-day average of 565 cases. There are 279 people in hospital and 149 in ICU but the difference this year is that all indicators are on a downward trend.

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  1. Jacob Sofer (right) and Jake Giller in front of their business Paramount Golf, located at Lawrence Ave W. and Bathurst St., in Toronto, Ont. on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020.

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  2. Olga Parussis, hold up a sign in front of her restaurant , Pantheon, to remind passing cars of the important of small business in Toronto on Friday December 11, 2020.

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  3. A health-care worker administers the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, which was authorized by Canada to be used for children aged 12 to 15, at Woodbine Racetrack pop-up vaccine clinic in Toronto May 5, 2021.

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That doesn’t mean public health officials aren’t urging caution still.

“We don’t want to take off our sense of being cautious this fall too early,” said Ottawa medical officer Dr. Vera Etches.

Peel’s medical officer Dr. Lawrence Loh reminded residents that smaller, outdoor gatherings are safer while Toronto’s medical officer Dr. Eileen de Villa suggested checking vaccination status before get-togethers.

“Certainly, what I’m suggesting to people is to ask about vaccinations,” de Villa said at an update earlier this week.

That’s a statement that will be seen as shocking and outrageous to some and readily adopted by others. For the rest of us, pass the stuffing and save me some gravy.

At his weekly COVID update, Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer, said that provincial rules allow for up to 25 people indoors and up to 100 outdoors and that outdoors is safer. As for why the rules and reactions are more relaxed than a year ago, despite come similar numbers, Moore pointed to vaccination rates.

“I think that at 86.7% immunization rate is what is allowing that to happen,” Moore said.

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He suggested that handwashing, masking and other measures be considered if everyone isn’t vaccinated or some people are immunocompromised but said increased knowledge and people doing the right thing has brought us to this point.

It seems strange that we are still being told to limit gatherings, that restaurants are still limited to half their usual capacity or less due to social distancing rules at this point given what else is allowed to happen in the province.

While a friend’s restaurant is capped at 20 seats indoors, last week I was at a Blue Jays game with more than 29,000 fellow screaming fans. This weekend the Ottawa Senators will visit the Toronto Maple Leafs for a pre-season game where just over 9,000 fans will be in attendance.

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Small businesses were reluctant to embrace the idea of provincial vaccine passports but eventually came around in the hope that it would allow increased capacity. With 87% of eligible Ontarians having received their first shot and 82% their second shot, surely we can begin to contemplate allowing increased capacity.

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I’m under no illusion that if allowed, people would flock back to packed restaurants. Many would not. But if we can have nearly 30,000 people at a ball game, why not 50 in a local restaurant?

“We only want to move in one direction,” Moore said when asked about relaxing capacity limits.

Given the yo-yo-like openings and closings of the past, that is something small businesses can appreciate but will capacity be lifted?

“We’re following the data on a daily basis and looking at removing public health measures over time that make sense,” Moore said.

Let’s hope that after Thanksgiving and as we head into colder weather the trend lines continue heading in the right direction. Our small businesses need that.

blilley@postmedia.com

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