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One day into Ontario 'shutdown' questions asked about how effective it will be

Last Updated Apr 3, 2021 at 11:56 pm EDT

On day one of the third provincewide lockdown business owners say the strict measures are impacting the wrong people and that stress over an uncertain future is at an all-time high due to the constant back-and-forth.

Personal grooming services and gyms are among those affected by the new measures, closing their doors weeks after being cleared for a limited reopening in some regions, along with restaurants which must now suspend all in-person dining for the next 28 days.

Orange Theory Fitness owner Ian Smith says after months of being closed he was looking forward to opening up outdoor classes at his Fort York studio, purchasing additional equipment and materials in the process. But before he could get things going, the Ford government announced it was pulling its “emergency brake” and shutting things down again.

“It’s as if there is no consideration to everything that goes into a business in opening and re-closing, whether that is the hiring or recalling of staff, whether that’s the training, whether that’s the additional investments in sanitation and extra materials,” said Smith who estimates he’s taken on over $150,000 in additional debt even with all the federal and provincial programs aimed at helping businesses through the pandemic.

Smith says he doesn’t understand the province’s logic as the spike in new cases aren’t being attributed to these types of businesses.

“More and more it feels as if our business and other industries like ours are being used as more of a signal to the public rather than actually trying to impact health measures.”

The “shutdown” came as a particular blow to salon operators in long-standing hot spots of Toronto and Peel Region that were within weeks of reopening their doors to customers again, according to a spokeswoman with the Beauty United Council of Ontario.

“Everybody’s very frustrated and angry,” said Annette Palumbo. “The (reopening) should not have been promised if the province was going to have a lockdown, which would have saved them time and trouble of getting their clients, calling them all, booking their appointments, and then before they’re even finished they have to call them to unbook them again. It’s a lot of man-hours and a lot of work, and it cost them a lot of money.”

Palumbo noted that while personal services must close their doors most retailers can continue welcoming customers under the province’s latest measures.

She said the latest shutdown stands to further erode her struggling industry, saying stylists and other beauty workers can’t hold on much longer.

“They’re single parents, some of them,” she said. “Some of them have had to give up their living quarters. I have stories of women, five of them living in a one-bedroom. They can’t afford to live in Toronto and they’re waiting… These girls cannot live like that.”

Restaurants are also being severely impacted as they have once again been reduced to takeout and delivery as both indoor and outdoor dining is once again prohibited under the new provincial measures.

Some local politicians spoke up in support of their now-shuttered local eateries.

“Many of our local restaurants ordered and purchased food in anticipation of patio service starting this week,” Oakville Mayor Rob Burton wrote on Twitter. “… If you can, please order take out or delivery this weekend from a local restaurant.”

Hours into the new provincewide “shutdown” Ontario reported 3,009 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday and 3,089 cases a day earlier.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Isaac Bogoch says while he appreciates that something needed to be done to try and halt the rise in COVID-19 cases and the additional stress on the healthcare system, he says a proper lockdown with stricter measures would have made more of an impact.

“In the more heavy burdened areas, like Toronto and Peel, not much has really changed so I don’t expect to see much change in the case burden,” says Bogoch. “A lot of these are happening in essential workplaces …so I think we need to do a lot more to support essential workplaces, especially in the high burden areas and a lockdown doesn’t necessarily address that.”

Dr. Michael Warner, the Medical Director of Critical Care at the Michael Garron Hospital, has been among the physicians openly critical of the government’s actions to try and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. He took to Twitter to speak about one of his patients, a woman in her 40s, who contracted the disease from her husband – an essential worker at a factory where there was an outbreak – because he could not afford to take a paid sick day off work. Warner says the whole family is now sick and the woman recently needed to be intubated.

“It would have cost @ongov $114 (8h x min wage) to allow her husband to take a day off work from his factory in known outbreak,” he tweeted. “We have lost our way.”

On Saturday night, Warner updated that the woman had died of COVID-19.

“Let her story become a force for positive change. Protecting essential workers must be the immediate term priority.”

The latest round of measures stop short of the “stay-at-home” order imposed during another wave of infections in January.

Mayor John Tory says he would be open to stay-at-home orders but adds that direction would need to come from the provincial government.

“I just think we’re at a crucial point right now where the vaccines are getting administered,” says Tory. “We have almost 40,000 people sign up in the last day – which is great – but we need to get caught up and in order to get caught up we have to bring the level of infection down and that’s going to involve people following the rules.”

Dr. Bogoch says while a stricter lockdown may be more effective, he still would like to see more leniency when it comes to outdoor activities and businesses as the risk of transmissions in those settings is low.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report