B.C.’s new COVID-19 restrictions mean businesses like The Duke Saloon are once again closing their doors, just a few months after being allowed to re-open.
New public health orders mean nightclubs and bars in B.C. must close from Dec. 23 until Jan. 18 as the Omicron variant breaks daily case records in the province.
“It feels like a pretty big step backward,” said the bar’s general manager Quincy Leachman. “I do feel like we’re kind of the favourite punching bag.”
Leachman said The Duke Saloon has tried to follow restrictions to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.
“We’re providing a safe space for our patrons to be in. I’m afraid [the new restrictions] will just drive people to have more indoor gatherings.”
But Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer said the virus has changed, so the rules must also.
“We know that [bars and nightclubs] are settings where people socialize, which right now, are risky settings especially for the demographic we’re talking about where we’re seeing widespread transmission,” said Henry on Tuesday.
Until Jan. 18, indoor gatherings are also restricted to one additional household or 1o people. Organized indoor events of any kind like wedding receptions or celebrations of life are cancelled.
And gyms across the province, like Third Space Movement in Victoria, are being forced to close.
“It’s very frustrating seeing how malls are still open and there are no regulations on that, whereas we’re following such strict rules already and doing such a good job keeping people safe here,” said Tianna Andrews, with Third Space Movement.
But health officials say with the Omicron variant, gyms are no longer safe.
“We know as well that these, unfortunately, have been places where transmission events have happened and have spread out to people in the community,” said Henry on Tuesday.
And beyond the initial frustration of closing their doors, across industries businesses are tackling layoffs, and employees are heading into the holidays unsure if they’ will be able to pay their bills.
“It’s leaving us wondering what kind of support like if we’re going to get wage subsidy, or if people are going to be able to get paid over the holidays,” said Andrews.
“We’re already bleeding at half capacity,” said Leachman. “And all of a sudden there’s nothing. So it’s a huge hit financially for us.”
The provincial government said Tuesday, help is coming.
“Yes we do think some businesses will need some help and yes those will be coming in the few days,” said Adrian Dix, B.C.’s health minister.
Earlier today, the federal government announced a temporary expansion of eligibility for two COVID-19 benefit programs to aid those affected by measures imposed in response to the spread of the Omicron variant.