‘BEYOND COMPREHENSION’: Restaurants excluded as Ontario lifts capacity limits for larger venues

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All Toronto restaurateur Celina Blanchard wants is a level playing field.

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The Lambretta Pizzeria owner doesn’t understand why restaurants were left off the list when the province announced a return as of 12:01 a.m. Saturday to 100% capacity for certain large venues, including those for concerts, sports and movies “due to the limited number of outbreaks in these settings.”

“It’s so frustrating,” Blanchard said Saturday.

“First of all, when you go into a restaurant, you have to put a mask on until you get to your table,” she said. “When you go to the washroom, you have to put your mask on. It’s the same as with the arenas.”

“But as soon as you order your food or alcohol, a beverage, whatever, you’re allowed to remove your mask and you’re going to be sitting next to someone, perhaps, that you don’t even know (in an arena). So tell me what the difference is?”

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In a statement, Restaurants Canada said it “is extremely disappointed that the Ontario Government continues to hurt the hardest-hit food service industry … 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.”

Proof of vaccination and mask wearing is still required at the venues where 100% capacity is allowed.

Blanchard said restaurants currently must have their seating six feet (two metres) apart and patrons have to show proof they are double-vaccinated with government ID and, if not, they must sit outside.

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With barriers installed inside, she’s able to have close to 50% capacity, meaning 35 of her 80 indoor seats can be filled and another 36 can be seated outside on her patio as part of CafeTO, which will likely wrap up in mid-November.

“I don’t understand this hate right now where there’s a double standard towards restaurants,” said Blanchard, who has owned Lambretta Pizzeria for six years.

“Most people, when you want to celebrate, you want to go to a restaurant,” she said. “It’s part of life. It’s part of our society. And now you’re punishing us. Why are you punishing us? It doesn’t make sense.”

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The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is also outraged and says only 37% of Ontario small businesses (including restaurants) are doing the same or better business-wise than they were pre-pandemic and closer to only 20% in Toronto.

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“I’m not going to sit here and say that the sports venues shouldn’t have full capacity — it definitely shows we’re going in the right direction.” said Ryan Mallough, the CFIB’s senior director of provincial affairs for Ontario.

“That being said, this is not the first time it’s happened where we’ve seen a government mandated unlevel playing field between bigger businesses and small ones,” he said. “This happened last year in Toronto during the holiday season where Walmart and Costco were allowed to be opened but smaller retailers weren’t.”

“It’s an immense frustration point for small businesses, especially in the restaurant business, who have been absolutely walloped,” Mallough added.

In a statement to the Sun, Health Ministry spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene explained why restaurants were left off the list.

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“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,” said Hilkene, adding Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health continues to monitor the situation.

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The province reported 654 new COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths Saturday.

Also left off Friday’s list were gyms, personal training facilities for such thing as martial arts or dance, indoor meeting and event spaces.

Restaurants Canada says it’s “calling on the government to immediately lift all further restrictions on the industry.”

Blanchard joins that chorus.

“I just feel that restaurants have been hit the hardest since day one (of the pandemic),” she said.

jstevenson@postmedia.com

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