TORONTO — Retailers and restaurants in Toronto and Peel Region braced for a fresh set of lockdown restrictions on Saturday as the daily tally of new COVID-19 cases in Ontario hit a record high.
The province recorded 1,588 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Saturday, along with 21 new deaths, days before Ontario's two foremost hot spots were due to enter a lockdown that would shutter non-essential retailers and personal services.
“This is basically the weekend before Christmas,” said Irina Rapaport, a shop owner in Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood who, like other non-essential retailers, will move to online orders and pick-up only shopping on Monday.
But her hopes of customers flocking to local stores over the weekend to stock up on holiday gifts seemed increasingly unlikely as of Saturday afternoon.
Rapaport said she fears the restrictions will disproportionately affect small businesses like her eponymous shop -- she designs the clothes herself and only allows one or two customers to enter the store at a time.
She said some big box stores that are allowed to stay open for in-person shopping seem more likely to draw dangerous crowds.
Under the new regime in Toronto and Peel, non-essential retailers will be limited to curbside pickup, indoor dining will be banned, and salons and gyms will shutter. Grocery stores, pharmacies and essential retailers -- including "department-type stores" -- can continue in-person shopping, subject to capacity limits, and schools and child-care services will remain open.
And despite the record-high case counts in Ontario, malls such as Yorkdale Shopping Centre extended their hours this weekend to help customers "avoid the peak shopping period" between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Jim Smith, who owns the clothing shop Envelop on the Danforth, said he understands why new restrictions are needed and is hoping that the province's newly revised rent relief programs will help get him through what is usually his busiest month.
The Ontario government has said it will double the amount of relief available to businesses to $600 million if they are required to close or significantly restrict services.
While necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19, Smith said his store's closure over the next 28 days will trickle down to the Toronto-based factories that help make his products.
While the shop had a solid flow of shoppers on Saturday morning, Smith said he will lose a lot of business.
"Today, (shoppers) will be focused on getting food, wine, shampoo,” Smith said, as small lineups formed outside neighbouring butchers and bake shops.
But even as small business owners balked at what they see as uneven restrictions, local politicians advocated for the rules.
“These new measures are the only way we can avoid school closures, further spread on our (long-term care homes) and overburdening our hospitals,” Mississauga, Ont., mayor Bonnie Crombie said in a statement.
Crombie, whose municipality lies in the heart of Peel Region, urged everyone to limit in-person contact to their immediate households and essential supports under the temporary “grey lockdown zone” rules.
There were 522 new cases in Peel Region on Saturday, 450 in Toronto and 153 in York Region, with nearly 46,700 tests completed, Health Minister Christine Elliott said.
The latest figures bring the total of COVID-19 cases in Ontario to 102,378, with 3,472 deaths, and 86,079 cases resolved. The province is also reporting that 513 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, with 87 on ventilators.
Amr Elimam, who owns the restaurant Papyrus, said foot traffic from retailers on the Danforth during the holidays usually lifts the area's restaurants and salons, too.
Elimam, who never opened his restaurant’s indoor dining out of caution over the virus, said he had urged local policy makers to act faster and earlier when cases first began rising in the autumn so a lockdown could be avoided during the holiday season.
“As a business owner, I was watching what other countries and what we were doing as a province … we knew we were heading to this point,” he said. “If the government had intervened earlier, they could have saved the Christmas season.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2020.
Anita Balakrishnan, The Canadian Press