The countdown is on as Ontario prepares to enter Step 3 of its COVID-19 reopening plan this Friday, but not all London, Ont., businesses are ready to reopen just yet.
Under the new stage, Ontario will allow for the return of indoor dining with no limits to the number of patrons per table, as long as distancing can be maintained.
Indoor sports and recreational fitness facilities can operate at 50 per cent capacity, and the same with cinemas.
The province was originally set to enter the new stage around July 21, giving businesses a few extra days to rehire staff, which is what Grace, a restaurant in downtown London needs.
“We’re going to stick with (reopening) on July 20 or 21, because we don’t currently have the staff on-hand to expand our capacity,” said Grace manager Adam Bain.
“We’re excited, (but) it’s stressful when things get pushed up a week.”
But once the restaurant hires enough staff, Bain says preparing to reopen this time won’t as difficult as previous times.
“This is maybe the third time we had to go through this, so we kind of know the drill by now and we hope this is the last time,” he laughed.
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Edin “Edo” Pehilj, the owner of Garlic’s of London is also worried about his restaurant’s low staffing levels, which decreased during lockdowns.
He has also decided to push back Garlic’s reopening date.
“We have to recruit more people, train them and also come up with a new menu. I think for these reasons, one week (of preparations to reopen) is not enough,” said Pehilj.
The restaurant does not have a patio, and although they offered take-out, Pehilj says he noticed a drop in sales once patios reopened.
Despite these challenges, the owner is optimistic that once they reopen, it’ll be the last time.
“This is something we’ve looked forward to for a long time… I believe we’re going to have a successful fall and Christmas season,” he said.
In the meantime, the staff at a local cinema are preparing for an earlier reopening than they expected.
Co-owner of Hyland Cinema, Moira Adlan, says they’ve already brought staff back, but they’ve also experienced staffing loss and is looking to hire people down the line.
“(The staff) have been cleaning, painting, freshening everything up (and) making sure we have enough stock,” she said.
Cinemas will be allowed 50 per cent capacity in Step 3, which Adlan supports.
“It really helps us, because we’re a 400-seat cinema. When we were limited to 50 seats (maximum), it was a lot harder for us to make ends meet,” she said. “Now that we can run on a percentage basis, we’re going to do a lot better.”
The co-owner adds she’s feeling positive about the upcoming reopening.
“We’re doing so well with the vaccines, so when we reopen, we’re going to feel more stable that we’re going to stay open.”
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As for West London CrossFit, a local gym, staffing is not their main concern — another shutdown is.
“It takes a toll on our staff and our members (when we) shut down unexpectedly,” said facility manager and co-owner Emily Kategiannis, reflecting on the last time they had to close their doors in April.
She says the gym serves a large population of those who experience disabilities and tries to stay open for them.
“We did remain open under the Disabilities Act to serve members (with disabilities) during that time. A few weeks later, the (Middlesex-London Health Unit) asked us to close our doors,” Kategiannis explained.
“We’re currently still appealing that, just to protect those with disabilities in the future if we were to be shut down again.”
West London CrossFit is planning to reopen as soon as possible.
Kategiannis says staff have been “making sure everything is working properly, making sure we’re stocked with cleaning supplies (and) revisiting how the classes will flow in the sense of numbers and spacing.”
According to Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen, the province would be allowed to move into Step 3 once 70 to 80 per cent of adults have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 25 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Once the province enters Step 3 at 12:01 a.m. Friday, it will remain in this step for at least 21 days.
In order to move forward, officials say all public health units should have at least 70 per cent of their population fully vaccinated.
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