With new COVID-19 restrictions taking effect this week, the B.C. government has committed to more support for ailing businesses.
Starting Wednesday at midnight, the province is shuttering all fitness facilities, bars and nightclubs, while restaurants and pubs can operate with a maximum of six people per table.
Seating capacity at venues, including movie theatres and concert halls, will be reduced by 50 per cent, and organized indoor events such as weddings and funeral receptions aren’t allowed.
“Our government continues to investigate supports for those who are or may be impacted by these new restrictions,” said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth on Thursday.
“There will be more information on the kind of supports available in the coming days and the weeks ahead.”
Last week, health officials released their latest modelling data, which suggested a worst-case scenario of up to 2,000 cases of COVID-19 per day by Dec. 29, mostly because of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
The province’s COVID-19 working group met Tuesday morning to discuss possible supports, but Farnworth provided no details that afternoon.
On Monday, the government extended its cap on the fees that food delivery companies, like Skip the Dishes and Uber Eats. can charge to restaurants. The 15-per-cent limit was set to expire on Dec. 31.
That extension was welcomed as a “start” by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, but on Tuesday, the organization issued another urgent plea for support.
“These new restrictions and closures are going to hit small businesses hard when they are in survival mode and relying on a strong finish to the holiday season,” it said in a statement.
“… Now is definitely not the time to impose additional costs on small businesses.”
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The CFIB called on the province to stop any further cost increases in 2022, and to fully fund the five days of paid sick leave policy that takes effect on Jan. 1. Right now, that expense must be paid by the employer.
According to the federation, 63 per cent of small businesses in B.C. have not yet returned to normal sales, and more than one third are losing money every day they’re open.
Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said “it could have been a lot worse.”
The industry is “relieved” restaurants and pubs can stay open, he explained, adding that measures like masks and physical distancing have been in place for months.
“Certainly, six people at a table may keep some people at home … but those are all things that are costs of business,” Tostenson told Global News.
He said the food service industry needs provincial and federal assistance, but did not elaborate on what kind.
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Dave Kershaw, owner of the Cabana Lounge nightclub in downtown Vancouver, said he hopes financial support comes soon. He’s “disappointed but not surprised” by the new marching orders.
Closing on Thursday, he said he’ll have to refund about $8,000 worth of prepaid deposits to guests, while more than $28,000 in rent is due on Jan. 1.
“We’d had events planned this whole week including on Boxing Day, and of course New Year’s Eve, which was pretty much already sold out,” said Kershaw. “This’ll probably cost us a couple hundred thousand dollars in sales.”
The nightclub has COVID-safe event hosting “down to a science,” he added, and he doesn’t understand why his venue must close while much larger spaces, such as Rogers Arena, can stay open at 50-per-cent capacity.
He said he hopes the province compensates businesses whose closure is mandated, particularly those for whom New Year’s Eve is the “biggest night of the year.”
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