Grants offered to struggling businesses, but some say it’s not enough
By Jessica Berget, Assistant Editor
The province has yet to release official industry specific data that shows COVID-19 spreading in indoor settings.
On March 29, BC announced stricter restrictions on indoor restaurants, fitness group centres, and went back on their plans of allowing indoor religious gatherings. People are still able to dine in restaurants on outdoor patios but only with immediate household or core bubble, and indoor fitness centres are closed except for one-on-one activities like personal training. These three week “circuit breaker” restrictions were put in place to stop the spread of the new COVID variants were set to expire on April 19.
It was reported on April 13 that the restrictions have since been extended until at least the May long weekend according to a statement from the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association (BCRFA). In the statement they also ask for clarity and expressed concern for the “inconsistency and confusion” regarding the guidelines for dining on outdoor patios, which the provincial health officer is expected to put together and distribute. BCRFA president Ian Tostenson says there is relief that restaurants are receiving advance notice on these closures, so they know how much food to order, but also concern as it means more loss of revenue for the restaurant industry.
Some restauranteurs are supportive of the newest public health orders while others feel restaurants are being unfairly targeted. The owner of Glowbal Restaurant Group, Emad Yacoub in a March 29 BC CTV News article for instance supports the closures and feels it’s the people who aren’t following these health orders are to blame. “I hope this is a wake-up call for everybody in the industry for us to get our act together and be sure we are following the guidelines,” says Yacoub. “We have been blessed; we were the only province in Canada that were open during all that time. People took advantage, and this is the consequences of it.”
In an April 14 Vancouver Sun article, Vancouver restauranteur Matt Thompson (owner of Cannibal Café, Alphabet City, Park Drive restaurant, and Five Point Restaurant and Pub) is angry that stores like Costco and public transportation busses are packed and argues the Ministry of Health has not provided enough evidence to support the spread of coronavirus in restaurants.
Whether people agree with the restaurant closures or not, Jeff Guignard with the Alliance of Beverage Licensees sums up the anxiety of all restaurant owners during this time in the same BC CTV News article. “It’s really sad for people who worked really hard to keep us open,” he said. “If you don’t have a patio right now—and even if you do, honestly, unless it’s a beautiful sunny day—you’re going to be hurt financially by this.”
Many say that these restrictions are not enough to curb the spread of the virus, but Vancouver health minister Adrian Dix disagrees. He says they’re “seeing some effects” from the March 29 public health orders but still need to ensure physical distancing. The province has yet to release official industry specific data that shows COVID-19 spreading in indoor settings.
For restaurants struggling with the public health closures, a $50 million relief package for 14,000 restaurants, gyms, bars, and other businesses was announced on April 8. The Circuit Breaker Relief Grant will give businesses that were affected a one-time cash infusion of $1000 to $10,000 to help with costs like rent, wages, insurance, and unexpected losses because of the sudden closures (like spoiled food). However, many restauranteurs like Mike Joss, owner of Gorge Pointe Pub in Victoria says it will do little to help. “We’re $10,000 down on a regular Friday night right now [compared to] what we’d normally do, so as nice as it is, it’s a bit of a Band-Aid on a wound,” said Joss in a recent CBC article. Restaurants not compliant with the public health orders are not eligible for the grant.