Caution abounds as Alberta eases huge raft of COVID-19 restrictions

Caution abounds as Alberta eases huge raft of COVID-19 restrictions

CALGARY — Restaurateur Leslie Echino laughs at the notion that even as Alberta lifts many more COVID-19 restrictions her business could return to anywhere close to normal.

As of Friday, restaurants, bars, lounges and cafes are no longer limited to half capacity, although they still have to follow distancing rules and seat no more than six people per table.

That means Echino won’t be able to squeeze any more customers into Annabelle’s Kitchen’s 70-square-metres of space in Calgary’s Marda Loop neighbourhood.

“It doesn’t change one single spot in my restaurant,” she said. “I cannot put any more bums in seats.”

The restaurant had a pre-pandemic capacity of 52, but can only hold 18 to 20 with physical distancing. Reducing the required spacing by half a metre, as other countries have done, could help accommodate a few more.

Overhead costs such as rent and utilities have been deferred, but not reduced. Echino said the restaurant would be devastated without a patio that doubles its capacity and draws customers in warm weather.

She added she doesn’t see the restaurant industry ever returning to its traditional dine-in model, and businesses will have to diversify long-term with catering, curb-side pickup and delivery.

Arts Commons, a multi-venue theatre complex in downtown Calgary, is also rethinking its post-pandemic future, even though some performances can resume.

Instrumental concerts are being allowed, but respiratory droplets that might carry the novel coronavirus mean there still won’t be vocal performances. Performing groups can have up to 50 members.

Arts Commons president Alex Sarian said there’s no timeline for shows to resume.

“The last thing we want, both as an institution and as a sector, is for a second wave to be traced back to an artistic gathering,” he said. “That would be devastating.”

Sarian said Arts Commons is exploring ways to showcase the arts this summer through outdoor or livestreamed events — an especially important offering with travel still largely off the table.

“While we’re grateful to be given the opportunity to start thinking about reopening, we also have to look at our business model and figure out collectively when does it truly make sense to really start opening the floodgates?”

Indoor recreation, fitness and sports facilities can also reopen, including gyms, arenas and pools.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said not to expect any city-run facilities to be running Friday, aside from perhaps some outdoor dry pads for sports like ball hockey.

“We laid off 15 per cent of our staff. We didn’t hire our seasonal workers,” he said. ”You can’t turn around on a dime. When the province announces on Tuesday, you just can’t have all those people hired by Friday.”

The City of Edmonton is reviewing how recreation centres, arenas, pools and libraries may open and says they might be phased in over time or continue on hold.

“The reopening of facilities is very complex and given the financial impacts of the pandemic, some services will not return this season,” the city said.

Libraries are allowed to unlock their doors, as well, but Calgary is waiting until June 23 to reopen in three locations. If that goes well, more branches will be added in the following weeks.

Also Friday, health services such as acupuncture, massage and reflexology can take clients, as can nail, skin and tanning salons.

Movie theatres, bingo halls, team sports and casinos (minus table games) are also set to reopen.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical health officer, said Friday that she understands people are excited by the government’s latest lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

“It is important to all of us to remember that this virus is not gone. COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities and will do so for many months to come.”

She said with increased activies and gatherings, there is increased potential for all Albertans to be exposed to COVID-19.

The province reported 30 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday but no new deaths. Hinshaw said there are 386 active cases and 53 of those people are in hospital.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 12, 2020

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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