For many Surrey businesses Dr. Bonnie Henry’s new “circuit breaker” restrictions imposed as of midnight Monday until at least April 19 is tough medicine to swallow though not entirely unexpected given the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases.
“In the last few days, we have seen the start of exponential growth in new cases, hospitalizations and more people requiring critical care support,” the provincial health officer said Monday. “A circuit breaker is now required to break the chains of transmission in our province and allow us to safely move forward.”
The result is B.C. has banned indoor dining at restaurants and pubs. Anita Huberman, CEO of the board of trade, said these latest restrictions “will only worsen things” for an industry hit hard by the pandemic.
“Yes, there are some restaurants that will be compromised as a result of the order. Many have ordered a lot of food, also, for this upcoming long weekend, not being prepared for the order,” she noted. The board of trade itself issued a notice Monday that it will once again be closed for in-person service over the next three weeks. “It’s just to keep my staff safe,” Huberman said.
The government has also shut down indoor group fitness at gyms for the next three weeks and suspended until May 13 a variance that allowed for indoor worship services at churches and temples.
The City of Surrey posted a bulletin late Monday afternoon that all indoor adult group fitness activities “of any kind” at City of Surrey Recreational Facilities are cancelled until April 19.
Mayor Doug McCallum also issued a press release Tuesday indicating he plans to introduce a motion at the city’s next council meeting – Monday, April 12 – to waive patio permit fees and “fast-track” the process. Until his motion is passed, he said, application fees will be put “on hold.”
“The places that we go to enjoy a meal and the company of others will be under strain with dine-in service prohibited over the next three weeks,” McCallum stated. “That’s why I will be bringing forward a motion to help restaurants, pubs and bars looking to build or expand a patio. I am also asking council to waive the Patio Permit Fee during this period. We can all play a part in helping these businesses that are a fabric of our community by ordering take out or dining at a patio. I encourage everyone to support your neighbourhood restaurants as we work through the next three weeks.”
Just last week the Surrey Board of Trade called on city hall to waive its Parking to Patio program fees so “way more” restaurants will have a chance to stay in business during the pandemic. And now with the new public health rules announced Monday, making patio dining and take-out service the only options open to pubs and restaurants until April 19, Surrey Councillor Linda Annis says this has become even more urgent.
“Our hospitality businesses continue to be the hardest hit by the pandemic and we should be doing everything we can to give our restaurants and pubs a fighting chance, with tougher COVID rules,” Annis said Monday. “Vancouver has thought outside of the box, meanwhile we seem to be treating temporary patios as a nuisance.”
Last year, only 12 signed onto the program, which came with a $200 application fee, a $500 damage deposit, a $500 traffic control fee for local and low-volume roads, and a $1,400 bill per parking stall on busier roads that required the installation of jersey safety barriers. While this was all split 50/50 between the city and businesses, the price was still too rich for many establishments.
Huberman last week called on city hall to waive these fees so more restaurants can affordably set up temporary seating for customers outdoors during the spring, summer and fall. She noted that more than 10,000 restaurants have shut down across Canada on account of the pandemic.
Last July the Safe Surrey Coalition majority on council rejected a motion to waive permit fees for restaurants and pubs that wanted to expand their patio space to try to recoup business lost to COVID-19.
Huberman said at press time that she met with city staff, prior to Monday’s order, “and they have absolutely no intention of modifying the program that they had released last year. It was staff that indicated that, and they said it’s because of the low participation rate in the year 2020. The City of Surrey at this time, they have no plans to modify their permitting or their patio program.”
She was not impressed with McCallum’s subsequent press release. “The next council meeting is April 12, the final week of the health order, hopefully the last week,” she noted. “So then what? Restaurants need action now, these delays are hurting businesses.”
Meantime, in the Cedar Hills area, Donegal’s Irish House operator Daniel Cook has decided to close the bar until further notice.
“I am crushed,” Cook posted to Facebook. “We worked so hard to provide a safe and healthy environment for our guests and staff, but despite all our best efforts, we’re going dark once again.
“I don’t know how long it’ll be this time around, hopefully it’ll be quicker than the last one, but we will be back,” he said.
Delta’s Sundowner Pub, at Scott Road and 64th Avenue, has shifted to take-out orders and installed tents in the parking lot to take advantage of patio dining service allowed under Monday’s health orders.
Likewise, Clayton’s Dublin Crossing Pub will be open for takeout, delivery and patio seating. “We will still be offering our full menu, and can even deliver you a bottle of wine with your order,” pub management said in a Facebook post. “Thank you for your continual support during these times.”
And for local churches that may have hoped to hold indoor services on Good Friday and Easter, albeit in a limited capacity, that won’t be happening this year either. But some, like Fleetwood Christian Reformed Church, have creatively adapted to the times. It has set up an Outdoor Prayer Path for Lent and Easter, featuring eight “stations of the cross.”
“We invite people to reflect on stories of people who sat at the table God spread before them in the extreme wilderness of their lives,” said Sarah Lee, a community intern at the church. “All the stations are up currently and they’ll be up probably for the next week or so too, like after Easter, and so people can come any time, they’re open 24/7 and they’re just all around the church parking lot right now.”
Under the new restrictions, up to 10 people can gather outdoors, at a park, beach or in a backyard, for example, as long as you stick to your same group of 10 and not add others in the mix from one day to the next. Patios and outdoor areas at restaurants, pubs and bars, however, are not included among places where 10 can sit at one table.
The BC Liberals are calling on the NDP government to provide “urgent” support for businesses and workers in light of these most recent restrictions.
“People needed that support one minute after midnight when the new restrictions came in, but there was no plan for it,” said Shirley Bond, interim leader of the Official Opposition. “How could they not have supports in place, knowing they were about to put so many British Columbians out of work for at least three weeks? The lack of care for people’s livelihoods, especially for those aged 20 to 39 in the service industry who are being blamed for the third wave by John Horgan, is unacceptable.”
On Monday Premier John Horgan took aim at British Columbians ages 20 to 39 related to the increase in case counts, saying they are “putting the rest of us in a challenging situation.”
“I’m asking, I’m appealing to young people to curtail your social activity,” he said. “My appeal to you is do not blow this for the rest of us. Do not blow this for your parents and your neighbours and others who have been working really, really hard, making significant sacrifices so we can get good outcomes for everybody.”
Huberman noted many people in that age group are front-line workers and in every age demographic, not only that one, “there are some that are not abiding by the health and safety protocols and compromising everyone else.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to generalize an age group,” she said. “We all have to act together as one. All age groups, in terms of these variants that are in our community.
“You can’t target one age demographic,” Huberman said. “I think that’s really unfair.”
– with file by Tom Zillich