National Post (Latest Edition)

New wave of shutdowns would jeopardize most vulnerable sectors,

‘A lot are just hanging by their fingertips’

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TORONTO • Business groups on Monday warned that a return to economic shutdowns could be disastrous for the country’s most vulnerable sectors as pressure mounts on government­s to implement more restrictio­ns to tamp down a second wave of COVID-19 infections in some parts of Canada.

Ontario hit a record- high 700 cases o n Mo n d a y, prompting the Ontario Hospital Associatio­n to call on the province to return to Phase Two of its reopening plan in hard- hit areas, which would mean closing indoor dining rooms, gyms and theatres.

That kind of shutdown, just as patio season winds down, would likely bring about mass closures in the restaurant industry, which as of mid- August had already lost 10 per cent of the 98,000 restaurant­s, caterers and bars that were operating before the pandemic, according to Restaurant­s Canada.

“A lot are just hanging by their fingertips,” said the group’s spokespers­on James Rilett. “We still think about 50 per cent of independen­ts will close if things don’t change soon.”

A group of municipal leaders in the Toronto area — where the bulk of Monday’s new cases were recorded — are apparently considerin­g the idea of adding more rules for restaurant­s to follow, on top of the earlier last-call hours imposed by the provincial government last week.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he met on Monday with leaders from the 11 largest municipali­ties in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, some of whom were “seriously considerin­g further restrictio­ns on restaurant capacity.”

Restaurate­urs were already worried about their prospects of surviving through the winter, as cooler weather starts to whittle away at patio traffic.

“Now we have to grapple with the possibilit­y of life without dining rooms either,” Rilett said.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce on Monday said government­s need to present a cohesive strategy for the coming months so that both businesses and consumers know what to expect during a second wave and any ensuing recovery.

“We need a plan to be able to live with the virus in our midst while still being able to engage in our economic activities,” said Trevin Stratton, the chamber’s chief economist and vice- president of policy. “If we’re just reacting to numbers as they change by the day, then, obviously, there isn’t a lot of certainty there.”

Consumer confidence is a major factor in economic stability, particular­ly for retailers, said Karl Littler, senior vice- president of public affairs at the Retail Council of Canada.

The council expects brickand- mortar retailers to be “less in the crosshairs” of economic shutdowns than they were in the spring, but another blow to the public confidence, and household budgets, could be “pretty disastrous,” he said.

“There are substantia­l chunks of the retail world that would be extremely stressed by a repeat of what we saw before,” Littler explained.

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