By ALI RAZA, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
About a week after the province permitted outdoor dining for restaurants, bars, and cafes in the grey zone, East Toronto business owners are expressing some optimism after what has been a crippling year so far.
The province announced last week that as of Saturday, March 20, outdoor dining was permitted in grey – lockdown zone areas – that included Toronto and Peel Region.
Outdoor dining is subject to physical distancing rules and a number of other public health and workplace safety measures including PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for employees.
Of course, the numerous restaurants, bars, and cafes in the East Toronto are well aware of what’s needed to stay afloat during COVID-19 as it has been more than a year since the pandemic began and they’ve gone through two major lockdowns.
Tables for outdoor dining are limited to the members of the same household, however. People who live alone or are dining with caregivers are exempt.
Beach Village BIA executive director Anna Sebert welcomed the news of patios being able to open, but said the notice didn’t allow enough time for businesses to react.
“However, we are happy with the decision and it was a huge relief for our restaurants, many of which were able to open that first weekend,” she said. “It’s a step towards normalcy.”
Dana, who runs The Gull and Firkin on Queen Street East in the Beach with her family, said they needed outdoor dining to restart.
“We had a very good weekend,” she said. “We needed it to happen, right now we’re just trying to be able to comfortably pay our rent.”
Like so many other businesses in the East End, Dana took advantage of the federal government’s wage and rent subsidies. She’s hanging on, and is encouraged by the growth in vaccinations.
“We’re a little more hopeful,” she said. “We need the weather to improve, and CafeTO starts again in May!”
Some restaurants, bars, and cafes in the East Toronto will soon be permitted to expand their outdoor patios with the city’s CafeTO program, adding an extra boost for desperately needed revenue.
“It has been great having the patio back open,” Breakwall BBQ and Smokehouse owner Shane said. “People are happy to be out enjoying food and drink again.
We’re looking forward to a busy summer on our extended patio.”
“Hopefully the vaccines will get rolled out quickly and we can all have a great summer,” he added.
While restaurant workers were not initially included in the province’s Phase 2 rollout of vaccinations, the Ministry of Health and the Premier’s Office confirmed to CTV News Toronto on March 22 that they will be part of Phase 2.
That’s encouraging news for Dana and other business owners, who believe it will bring them closer to normalcy and recovery.
COVID-19 remains an active threat in the city. The province is in its third wave of infections, with Toronto’s case count growing as more contagious and deadly variants of concern (mutated strains of the virus) make up more and more of new positive tests.
To date, 436,443 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Toronto.
“Given that we are seeing an increase in our case counts and in variants of concern, this cautious approach recognizes the lower risk of transmission in outdoor spaces while supporting mental health and well-being,” medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa said.
In a news release on Friday, March 26, the province announced lifting more restrictions for municipalities in the grey – lockdown zone.
Outdoor fitness classes, outdoor team training, and outdoor personal training will be permitted beginning March 29, limited to 10 people maximum and reservations only. Physical distance must be maintained and face masks must be worn.
Personal care services, like barbershops, hair and nail salons, and body art establishments, will be permitted to operate via appointment only with less than 25 per cent capacity or five patrons beginning April 12.
Hamilton is the latest municipality to join the grey – lockdown zone, as cases surged from March 15 to 22.
Ali Raza is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.