Calls to reopen businesses grow but officials issue caution with new COVID-19 variants

EDMONTON — There has been a push to reopen bars and restaurants across the province after they were forced to close their doors again six weeks ago.

“All of our businesses are suffering so badly,” said Janet Riopel, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce’s CEO.

“Almost all of them were shutdown for almost the entire year of 2020 and now at this point there’s no certainty that, that won’t be the same for 2021.”

With new daily case numbers going down over the last month, the Alberta Chambers of Commerce is calling for an immediate easing of restrictions for businesses like cafes, restaurants and bars. Similar to the rollout with personal health and wellness services last week.

“What’s critical here is for government to work with business to see where they can relax some of the restrictions while taking a critical look at what they’re doing as far as protection,” Alberta Chambers of Commerce CEO Ken Kobly said.

“We’re thankful our numbers are coming down,” Riopel said. “I think we all are. I think we breathe a sigh of relief as we see that things are leveling off, but we have to start getting our economy up and running for fear that these business just won’t be able to open their doors.”

BUSINESS NOT WAITING

However, one business near Mirror, Alta., isn’t waiting for the government. The Whistle Stop Caféopened last week despite the threat of fines.

“There’s the odd person who calls me a murderer,” Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Café, said. “But other than that, the support has been fantastic.”

“That is such a strong symbol of desperation in our community,” Riopel said.

The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce is taking a more moderate approach, but still calling for the reopening of restaurants as soon as possible.

“We’re asking that there be a thoughtful rollout over the coming days, weeks and months,” Riopel said.

“Every day that goes forward there is going to be a very trying and difficult day for business owners. But, not just for business owners, for their employees, for the people that are deriving income in order to sustain their own families,” she added. “It’s going to be a very tough time trying to weather this ongoing continual storm each and every day.”

Both the Edmonton Chamber and the province-wide Chambers of Commerce agree there needs to be clarity on when businesses can open their doors and what COVID-19 related numbers could make that happen.

“They need to know when is this milestone,” Kobly said.

“I don’t know a single business person that developed a business model predicated on not being able to operate,” Riopel said.

“So when you can’t bring revenues in the door, you don’t have any customers coming in your door, how the heck are you supposed to sustain your operations?”

CAUTION FROM THE GOVERNMENT

The official message from the province is that restrictions will be in place until further notice.

In Monday’s COVID-19 update with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Alberta Health Services has identified 25 cases of the more contagious variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

“Let me be blunt: This now is very concerning,” he said.

“We need to continue to proceed cautiously, recognizing that or health system is still under significant strain,” he said.

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