Businesses and mayors frustrated with grey-zone technicalities
BARRIE -- As Simcoe Muskoka moves back into a modified version of Ontario's grey zone, there is frustration from those living and working far away from Barrie – the epicentre of the region's COVID-19 case count, and from small-businesses who say they can operate safely.
In Muskoka, businesses-owners say they are at their wit's end, having to follow restrictions they believe should be implemented in Simcoe County only.
"People need to feel that what's being done is appropriate for them, and I think that's what missing right now," mayor of Bracebridge, Graydon Smith, told CTV News on Sunday. "Too many people have contacted me and said 'this is a problem somewhere else that we are having to deal with.'"
Illusions hair salon in Bracebridge isn't typically open on Sundays, but this Sunday, with precious little time before Simcoe Muskoka returned to lockdown, many stylists were working.
"Today would have been ten days that we're back to work, and we're shut down again, so in total, it's been five months – and now how long is this shut down going to be for?" said hairstylist Ruthann Cook outside the salon.
However the region's medical officer of health warns the UK COVID-19 variant has been spreading.
Simcoe Muskoka has the highest number of variants of concern in Ontario, and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit says more than 60 per cent of the COVID-19 cases last week were positive for a variant.
"Countries that have experienced high numbers of the variants of concern have then experienced a third wave of COVID-19, and we need to act early to prevent that from happening here," the medical officer of health, Dr. Charles Gardner, said in a statement on Sunday.
Dr. Gardner has said the move to the grey-lockdown is meant to be a short-term emergency brake, meant to prevent a third wave.
Meanwhile, business-owners in Simcoe County who border neighbouring Grey-Bruce, which will enter a green zone on Monday, say the rules don't make sense and that a few kilometres can make or break their business.
"Just six kilometres down the street, they are turning to green, which is Grey-Bruce," pointed out Stephen Walker, from 1858 Ceaser bar in Collingwood.
The mayor of Collingwood, Brian Saunderson, echoed that sentiment in a press release on Sunday.
"It is extremely unfortunate and unfair to local businesses that Blue Mountain retail outlets, restaurants, coffee shops and bars can operate under a relaxed Green Zone designation while five minutes away Collingwood's businesses are forced to severely cut back operations or close in accordance with strict Grey-Lockdown regulations."
Meanwhile, the mayor of Barrie, Jeff Lehman, said he supports some grey zone restrictions, but not all of them.
"There are a whole series of businesses that get caught up in the switch from red to grey, where there have been no cases of transmission. They're able to operate safely. So what I would prefer to see is that those restrictions get changed, so those businesses can remain open, and we're targeting the real areas of concern – social gatherings and potential other sources of spread," he told CTV News Sunday afternoon.
Lehman has also written a letter to the province requesting changes to the grey zone restrictions.
In part of the letter he writes, "I'm requesting that the Province immediately revise the business restrictions within the Grey category of the framework to permit small businesses to remain open that can operate with little or no public health risk."
In a rare weekend briefing, Dr. Gardner acknowledged the numerous concerns about going back into lockdown but said it's still unclear which direction the pandemic is heading.
"What do you do then if, in fact, there's a jump again, and it continues in the wrong direction, as I fear it may."
It's unclear how long the lockdown will last, but the medical officer of health says he is taking feedback into account.