Toronto approves new COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants
TORONTO -- City council has approved new restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 within bars and restaurants while at the same time passing a five-point plan to help the struggling industry survive.
Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eillen de Villa had asked council to sign off on lowering the allowed capacity at restaurants and bars from 100 to 75 and the maximum number of people permitted at any one table from 10 to six.
She had also asked them to require that restaurants and bars collect contact information for each patron they serve as opposed to one per person per table while reducing the noise of background music to no louder than normal conversation.
During a hybrid meeting on Wednesday with some embers present at city hall and others joining remotely, council approved all of the measures.
They also voted in favour of a five-point plan unveiled by Mayor John Tory earlier in the day to help support the restaurant and bar industry.
Speaking with reporters ahead of the meeting on Wednesday morning, Tory said that he “fully supports” the measures proposed by de Villa but conceded that they will have some “negative impact” on a lot of businesses that were already struggling.
To that end, Tory said that he met with various members of the restauraunt and bar industry to solicit their feedback on how the city can better support them through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The resulting plan directs staff to explore ways in which the city can support the restaurant industry by allowing winter patio operations.
It will also see the city formally request that the province extend the order permitting the sale of alcohol as part of takeout and delivery orders through 2021 and continue its pause on commercial evictions “until the COVID-19 resurgence eases.”
Finally, the city will formally express its support of any provincial government actions to prevent the “astronomical” insurance premium increases that some businesses have reportedly faced so far in the pandemic.
“I realize that these public health measures contained in Dr. de Villa’s recommendations today and any future measures that may be necessary along with reduced hours mandated by the provincial government will have a negative impact on businesses that were struggling before and just trying to keep the lights on and keep people employed. That is why I am asking council to endorse five ways in which we can help restaurants through the resurgence and send a united message as a council representing the entire city to the provincial and federal governments about specific support they can provide,” Tory said.
The city has already allowed heaters to be installed on some of the temporary patio spaces set up in curb lanes and on sidewalks as part of the CafeTO program; however those spaces will all be dismantled by Nov. 15.
Tory said that there has been no consideration given to extending the CafeTO program past that point because it is “just not possible to do snow clearing” with the structures in place.
He said that what he is interested in is exploring ways that the city could assist restaurants in maintaining their permanent patio spaces through the winter.
“What we can do as a first step is just look at what is possible. I want answers as to how much we can do; not how much we can’t do with respect to winter outdoor dining as a means of helping these businesses stay alive,” he said. “I have seen bubbles used in New York City and we have seen some patios that have put up sort of temporary enclosures around themselves, though you have to be careful not to turn it into indoor space because then it becomes indoor dining.”
City council also voted in favour of a motion from Board of Health Chair Joe Cressy on Wednesday that directs de Villa to “consider any additional measures that may be required to maintain a COVID-19 reproduction rate below 1.0.
The motion specifically mentions “additional measures in gyms and fitness studios,” “ targeted restrictions and requirements for commercial settings at higher potential risk for transmission” and “screening for signs and symptoms at more public locations where people gather,” among other things.