By Nick Bernard
In an announcement presented on Dec. 17, the Ontario government announced new restrictions in the face of rising COVID-19 case counts, and the continuing spread of the Omicron variant.
Effective as of Dec. 19 at midnight, a 50 per cent capacity limit is in place for a number of indoor settings:
Restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments and strip clubs;
Personal care services;
Personal physical fitness trainers;
Retailers (including grocery stores and pharmacies);
Non-spectator areas of facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities (e.g. gyms);
Indoor recreational amenities;
Indoor clubhouses at outdoor recreational amenities;
Tour and guide services;
Photography studios and services;
Marinas and boating clubs.
“The experts have been very clear: nothing will stop the spread of Omicron,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said. “It’s just too transmissible.”
No new announcements about school closures were announced, but Ford said he understood parents’ concerns.
“I know you’re concerned about your kids’ schools, and what to expect after the new year,” he said. “I can tell you this: No decision has been made on what that looks like yet.”
In an email to the Echo, the TLDSB confirmed Ford’s statement:
“TLDSB follows the directives of the local and provincial health units and the Ministry of Education in relation to all COVID-19 restrictions; at this time we have not been advised by the Medical Officer of Health or by the Minister of Education that schools will be required to close to in-person learning in January,” the school board said. “TLDSB is currently planning for students and staff to return to in-person learning on Jan. 3, 2022. Should provincial directives change over the holidays, we will communicate to staff and families as promptly as possible.”
Locally, the restrictions have affected organizations like the Highland Storm Minor Hockey Association. Their restrictions include a maximum of two spectators per player allowed in the arena, no spectators allowed in the indoor lobby areas, and mandatory social distancing and mask use.
The Haliburton Curling Club’s president Ken Milford announced his club’s restrictions as well.
“Throughout the entire pandemic we have pledged to keep you all as safe as possible at all times and this will not change,” Milford said in an email directed to members. “As it stands today we believe that legally we could continue to curl at 50 per cent capacity if we choose to adjust a few protocols and split some draws down to two sheets.”
There were, however, three issues facing the club’s board: The rate of transmission, the fact that fully vaccinated people are still at risk of infection, and the probability that each of club member’s personal contacts are likely to increase through the end of the holiday season.
“Which means that we have a diminished ability to make sure you are safe,” Milford said. As a result, the curling board has passed a motion to suspend operation of the club through the Christmas break.
Doug Wilkinson, new owner of Sir Sam’s Ski and Ride said the facility is still working out how to interpret the 50 per cent capacity limit, given the different number of indoor spaces that encompasses Sir Sam’s. Its liquor licence covers a capacity of 650 both indoors and outdoors, while other indoor spaces have a capacity for up to 450.
Wilkinson also said that Sir Sam’s never returned to full capacity after an easing of restrictions in October.
“For the most part, we didn’t go back to full capacity,” Wilkinson said. “So hopefully it’s going to be a minor adjustment … just because, since we’re a ski hill, through the summer [we’re] not very busy, so we never went back to full capacity.”
He said hopefully, any changes the facility does make will be done comfortably and with minimal impact to its current operational status.
“Our understanding is – and we were on a call with the Ministry [of Health] last night [on Dec. 17] – that there’s no impact to capacities outside on the hill,” Wilkinson said. “So there’s no issues on that front.”
Elsewhere in the county, the Township of Algonquin Highlands announced the closure of all municipal facilities following a special meeting of the Algonquin Highlands council on Dec. 20.
“As a result of the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, all Algonquin Highlands municipal facilities, including the administrative office on North Shore Road, are closed to the public effective immediately. Staff who are able to work from home have been instructed to do so,” the township said in a press release. Landfills and hiking trails, however, remain open.
“If absolutely necessary, members of the public may still schedule meetings with township staff by appointment, and must observe COVID-19 safety protocols including mask-wearing and physical distancing during those meetings. However, contact by email or telephone is preferred at this time.”