Bars and restaurants are expected to reopen in Toronto. But should they?

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Toronto is allowed to reopen indoor bars and restaurants starting Friday but, in the absence of clear direction from the province, city council plans to implement additional measures as infectious disease experts warn of increased risk of COVID-19 resurgence.

As the city prepares to join the rest of the province in Stage 3, bar and restaurant operators say reopening interior spaces is “crucial” to their survival. But some Toronto residents, especially those struggling with childcare issues, fear a return to isolation as cities around the world further into the reopening see a resurgence of cases. At least one infectious disease specialist is wondering whether these businesses should reopen.

Dr Andrew Morris, of the Sinai Health System and the University Health Network, expressed concern about the opening of bars and restaurants with the school restarting in September.

“For me, thinking with a public health lens… I care a lot more about getting the kids back to school than the indoor dining room and bars,” Morris said.

“If I were a rule maker, a policy maker, I wouldn’t have any way to open restaurants and bars until I put the kids in school.”

Any stage 3 reopening is likely to cause blips, Morris said, so it is important for public health authorities to be able to manage outbreaks effectively so that there are no further shutdowns.

If the plan is to send children back to school full time, “the greatest chance of success is that there is actually very little disease in the community,” he said. So, “why test for potential blips in the community with bars and restaurants? “

Premier Doug Ford announced on Wednesday that Toronto would join the rest of the province in Stage 3, which allows eating and drinking indoors at limited capacity bars and restaurants and under other rules . Masks are not expected to be needed for these interior spaces, although city officials recommend them. The province does not yet have detailed plans for the reopening of schools.

But there was some confusion over whether the province had adopted all of the improved measures for bars and restaurants requested by officials in Toronto.

This led to city council on Wednesday passing a safety net – amending an existing by-law to ensure those restrictions would be in place under city rules – at the request of the city’s medical officer of health and attorney. These restrictions include ensuring customers are seated at all times and requiring restaurants to keep customer records.

Dr Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute and the University of Toronto, said the question was not whether bars and restaurants should open up indoor spaces, but how to do it. in the safest way possible.

“When you have very low levels of community transmission you want to keep those levels as low as possible,” he said, explaining that people are more likely to contract the virus indoors where there is a lot. people in close contact for prolonged periods. time, like bars and restaurants.

And while alcohol can disinhibit people, making it difficult to stick to the ground rules, the alternative – keeping bars and restaurants closed – could also create public health problems, he said.

“You’re not going to stop the social interactions,” Bogoch said, especially with young people. “You’re going to see more and more of these 200-person house parties in Brampton. And it might not be that extravagant or that obvious, but it can be analogous.

He said the measures proposed by the city, including making sure everyone inside is seated at all times, are good because they take a “harm reduction approach.”

Even with additional measures in Toronto, potential problems persist, Morris said.

The city’s newly enacted rule that bars and restaurants keep customer registers to facilitate Toronto public health contact tracing requires them to register at least one person per party, Morris noted. .

Imagine a scenario, he said, in which a person testing positive for COVID-19 and Toronto Public Health contacts a restaurant where there were 50 people, but the bar has contacts for less than half of those customers.

This forces public health officials to ask each contact for their contacts.

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“Now we’re talking, you know, it’s not seven days now, it’s like 10 days and these other people have almost certainly been to another bar since that time and you get the picture,” Morris said. .

On July 17, the Ontario Medical Association urged the provincial government to “rethink” the opening of indoor bars, citing public safety.

“The evidence from other jurisdictions is that reopening bars carries a significant risk,” OMA President Dr Samantha Hill said in a written statement. “When people consume alcohol, inhibitions are lowered, making them much less likely to practice physical distancing, appropriate masking behaviors, and good hand hygiene. Indoor areas with reduced air ventilation present a particularly high risk of transmission. “

Earlier this month, Mayor John Tory sent a letter to the province asking it to adopt several additional measures for bars and restaurants in Toronto. On Wednesday, announcing that Toronto would take the next step, the provincial government said it “supports” the recommendations, but city lawyer Wendy Walberg said measures adopted will not be clear until after. wording of the order. is seen.

Certain recommendations sent to the province, in particular the limitation of opening hours, do not fall within the competence of the city.

Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, said the industry has already been “devastated”.

“It is very difficult to build a sustainable business in the restaurant industry with the kind of income that comes with it,” he said, adding that without the federal wage subsidy some would not even be able to afford it. ” operate patios, authorized under Step 2.

Operators expect governments to be creative in helping their troubled industry, including what the B.C. government announced last month: Licensed restaurants can buy alcohol at wholesale prices, which cuts the cost of alcohol by up to 25%, reported the Vancouver Sun.

James Rilett, Central Canada vice president for Restaurants Canada, said it was summer and the focus should be on reviving their hard-hit industry.

“I don’t think it’s fair to tie schools to restaurants because it’s a whole different animal,” Rilett said.

At Ruth’s Chris Steak House, VP of Marketing Sara Wilde said the patio was open at the airport and there was some takeout downtown, but for the most part it didn’t. not cover costs.

“It is extremely crucial” to open up indoor food courts, Wilde said Wednesday. “I’m literally doing a happy dance this morning because I recognize there is still a risk with (COVID-19), but we are very well equipped to have things in place for safety.”

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