The Ontario government's new capacity restrictions and rules — put in place Sunday to combat the rise of the Omicron variant and surging cases of COVID-19 — are impacting local restaurants, gyms, and casinos, among many other industries.
Most indoor settings such as restaurants and gyms have been reduced to 50 percent capacity.
Golden Wok Buffet & Lounge owner, Katty Po, took it upon herself yesterday to go beyond the province's mandate and close her Front Street restaurant for dine-in services altogether. The Golden Wok’s buffet has been shut down since the pandemic began in March of 2020.
“We were trying to do dine-in for our customers, but most of them are seniors. I know they wanted to gather here for the Christmas season, but with COVID-19 and Omicron becoming more and more serious, we had to make a decision,” she explained.
The Golden Wok’s take-out and delivery services are still running, and it’s keeping the restaurant alive, but it’s not a viable way of operating the business for a long period of time, Po says.
“We had to do what was best for the safety of our customers and staff. Our staff are all double vaccinated and are going to make their appointment to get their boosters, but I still didn’t want to take any chances,” she said.
“We will maybe re-open when there is a drop and cases and the government lifts restrictions.”
Po is calling on the Ontario government to set up a wage subsidy/financial relief for restaurants.
“Hopefully, they will do something. I just know many restaurants have closed during COVID-19; this has not been easy,” she said.
"We’ve had to move some staff from full-time to part-time, but we try to provide a job for them even though business is not comparable to the way it was before COVID-19.”
Orillia CrossFit has been operating well under capacity restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic. Classes never have more than 12 people in them. However, owner and trainer Matt Spencer fears the new capacity restrictions could be the first of many hurdles on the horizon.
“I think this is just the beginning. It obviously has a massive impact on us, and we directly see negative impacts to our business when things like this happen because members start to ask to put memberships on hold,” he explained.
Spencer is fearful that another lockdown is coming, which will be followed by government financial support that is only enough to help for 28-day lockdown periods.
“If the government is planning on another lockdown, I hope they adjust their aid strategy,” he said.
Spencer says it would be extremely difficult to move his programs back online in the new year.
“In the gym industry, everyone talks about New Year’s Resolution waves, and as a gym, we never got that last year. It would be really unfortunate if that happens again this year as I was really looking forward to helping a lot of people with their health this January,” he said.
“It would also be unfortunate for the Orillia community because it would be pulling the rug from underneath people when they are the most motivated.”
Spencer says pursuing fitness goals has many advantages.
“People need a release, and it becomes really tough on me to lock my door and email every single person and listen to their disappointment. People are tired of this and need healthy outlets, that’s what makes this so difficult,” he said.
As for Casino Rama, not only are they facing the 50 percent capacity restriction, but they also must restrict customers from eating or drinking while gambling.
“We’ve been capped before at 50 percent, but for our guests, the biggest difference now is the centre bar is closed on the gaming floor. However, the other food and beverage operations are intact and operating,” says Robert Mitchell, the director of communications and public affairs for Gateway Casinos, which operates Casino Rama and several other casinos.
“We are still operating as usual other than that, and it hasn’t had that great of an impact at this point in time.”
Casino Rama’s hotel and spa are still open, as are all the restaurants except for the buffet.
The new restrictions, however, forced the casino to cancel its planned concerts and shows for January and February.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s not a question of choice and it’s something that is mandated by the government,” Mitchell said.
The lack of concerts has put some staff out of work. Lighting crews, sound technicians, and other entertainment support workers won’t be called to work, he said.
“It’s unfortunate for everybody: the entertainers, staff, and folks who wanted to see the shows, but it’s just the reality of this Omicron virus and what’s happening with this pandemic,” Mitchell said.
“It’s all part and parcel of the attempts of the government to manage this pandemic and they’ve brought these decisions to bear on us, and we have to follow suit.”
Some restaurant staff will also be temporarily laid off because of the circle bar closure.
“It’s unfortunate and regrettable, but there is very little we can do about it,” Mitchell said.
“We will continue to monitor this situation and hopefully once the government starts rolling out these third booster shots, which appear to be having a positive effect in terms of preventing people from becoming seriously ill, then we will perhaps see numbers decline and restrictions be lifted.”