New capacity limits for Ottawa businesses amid surging COVID-19 cases

Ottawa’s top doctor is imposing new restrictions on restaurants, gyms and other businesses as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads.

Medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches has issued a letter of instruction that reinstates 50 per cent capacity limits and physical distancing requirements, effective Monday.

“Waiting to take action means waiting until it’s too late,” she said on Friday. “We’re on the worst possible curve.”

Etches made the announcement shortly before Ontario introduced its own restrictions later Friday, including lowering private gathering limits to 10 people indoors from 25, and 25 people outdoors.

“We need to meet this variant head-on,” Premier Doug Ford said. “We need to do everything we can to push it back.”

Ottawa saw 309 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, after recording 199 on Thursday. Ontario reported a significant jump in cases to more than 3,100, more than double the 1,429 reported on Tuesday.

Although hospitalizations remain low, public health experts expect them to rise.

Etches said the new restrictions are necessary to protect residents and reduce Omicron’s potential impact on the health care system.

“Hospitalizations and deaths are a lagging indicator,” Etches said. “We expect to see the impact on local hospitals in the coming weeks.”

The following settings in Ottawa will have capacity and physical distancing requirements of 50 per cent starting 12:01 a.m. Monday:

Meetings and event spaces, including conference and convention centres

Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments without dance facilities

Personal care services, such as hair salons, barber shops, beauty salons, piercing services and tattoo studios

Indoor recreational amenities and indoor facilities use for sports and recreational fitness activities including areas for spectators within those facilities

Indoor clubhouses affiliated with outdoor recreational amenities

Indoor concert venues, theaters and cinemas

Museums, galleries and similar attractions

Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments

Indoor fairs, rural exhibitions, festival and similar events, and

Faith-based organizations and places of worship

People must be able to maintain a physical distance of two metres in all the above facilities, in addition to not exceeding 50 per cent capacity.

Restaurants and bars will also face new restrictions. Patrons must be seated at all times when consuming food and drinks, and no more than six people are allowed per table.

Some differences between Ontario and Ottawa restrictions

Etches said on Friday if the provincial and local restrictions differ, the stronger measure will apply. For example, Ontario is limiting patrons at restaurants to 10 people per table, but Ottawa’s order limits that number to six.

Ontario is also applying its 50 per cent limit to retailers and shopping malls, which the Ottawa Public Health order does not cover.

The province is also ordering bars, restaurants and strip clubs to close at 11 p.m., with the exception of takeout and delivery service. The sale of alcohol will be restricted after 10 a.m.

Ontario’s order comes into effect on Sunday at 12:01 a.m.

The Ontario government has also ordered the suspension of food and drink services at sporting events, concert venues, theatres and cinemas, casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments, horse racing tracks, car racing tracks and other similar venues.

And Ontario’s limits don’t apply to any portion of a business that is being used for a wedding, a funeral or a religious service, rite, or ceremony.

But Ottawa’s order does cover faith-based organizations and places of worship.

Etches urged people in Ottawa to keep gatherings as small as possible and limit their number of close contacts.

Etches also asks people to suspend participation in indoor team sports and team play “for the time being,” and to not attend large venues.

Businesses scrambling to adjust

Businesses who have survived the 20-month roller coaster of the pandemic are facing the prospect of rapidly pivoting again ahead of the usually busy holiday season.

“We were struggling to find staff and now we’re thinking how to reduce our staff to accommodate for the 50 per cent,” said Nick Charbel, the owners of Hard Stones Grill in Nepean.

“It’s a continuous struggle with the opening and closing and opening and closing. So you can’t really plan.”

Conor Oakley, who owns CrossFit Hintonburg, said their business usually relies on this time of year.

“For us to be taking a step back when we should be ramping up is definitely going to be hard,” he said.

“We just make sure we follow the guidelines, make sure our members feel safe. That’s the best we can do.

Ottawa Bylaw Services ready to enforce new rules

Ottawa Bylaw officers will be deployed to enforce the new restrictions on businesses during the holiday season.

“The dedicated team will be redeployed starting Monday,” said Ottawa Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman.

“Primarily we’re responding to complaints and information received from the public for non-compliance, and that’s where we’ll continue to focus our efforts on in those areas.”

The city of Ottawa says residents with complaints can call 311 to inform the city of non-compliance by businesses.

“Bylaw is always at the ready to go and enforce the laws,” said Kim Ayotte, Ottawa’s new general manager of community and protective services.