Niagara eateries want relief from COVID sanctions

By Mike Williscraft

Restaurant owners from across Niagara are not happy with increased COVID-19 protocols instituted by Dr. Mustafa Hirji, the Region’s acting medical officer of health.

The added measures, announced by Hirji last week exceed those put in place by the provincial government’s implementation of a Code Orange designation for Niagara, which took effect on Monday.

Under the guidelines, among other measures:

• no more than six can be seated at an indoor or outdoor table;
• all must be from the same household
• For every customer who enters premises, name, contact info, arrival time, departure time, table number and attestation they are symptom free must be taken;
•All records must be kept confidential for at least a month, and;
• Sanitizer must always be kept on each table.

Representing dozens of Niagara restaurants and bars, Mark Wood of 40 Public House in Grimsby, is leading a battle he says needs to be fought in order for sheer survival of many eateries.

Citing the lenthy list, Wood says, “These good people are joining me to have one voice to help correct an injustice.”

The injustice, he says, is restaurants have been unfairly targeted for increased sanctions and he says data the Region already has support this claim.

At Monday night’s meetings of Grimsby and Lincoln council, both passed a motion in support of reconsideration of the Section 22 sanctions with officials from both municipalities confirming zero COVID-19 postives have originated at a restaurent in their communities.

“In my opinion, the medical officer of health broke with protocol,” said Grimsby Mayor Jeff Jordan, noting, in the past, Hirji would provide his advice on various topics to regional council and the elected officials “made the final call”.

“Our restaurants have done a great job stepping up and working with the ever-changing regulations.”

Coun. John Dunstall, a restaurant owner himself, said the impacts of these added sanctions will prove too much for many.

Saying restaurants weathered closure, and take out only days to get to the slow re-opening of summer but “many probably won’t make it through a second wave.”

In Lincoln, Mayor Sandra Easton brought a motion noting the municipality is supportive of appropriate health measures but a “full report” was requested to be generated and sent to all regional elected officials with an eye to providing all data which went into the initial decision.

The motion also asks to create a week-to-week review of the “dining-out to household only restrictions” weekly going forward.

For Wood, the picture is clear.

“There is a lack of substantiated evidence to indicate that restaurants are making the situation worse,” he said, noting there should be a larger concern that sanctions would push people in hosting house parties or dinners where little or no social distancing measures are used.

Wood will be addressing a special meeting of the Region’s health committee on Wednesday.

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