Additional restrictions could be coming for the retail sector amid concerns about “crowd scenes” in the lead up to the holidays, Mayor John Tory says.
Tory made the comment to CP24 during an interview on Monday morning, noting that possible new restrictions at stores and in malls are something that the city is “taking a hard look at” in consultation with their provincial counterparts.
“The malls have proven to be a crowd scene and look there is a lot of good to that - people are doing their holiday shopping and the stores are doing business which is all very important from the standpoint of the economy - but if we are looking to cut down on crowd scenes and encouraging people to stay home then the notion of whether you have some capacity restrictions in stores and malls is clearly something that has to be on the table,” he said.
Malls are still allowed to operate in red zones like Toronto under the province’s framework for COVID-19 restrictions but the document does identify limiting capacity during the winter holiday season as something that should be considered.
Tory refused to provide specifics when it came to the type of restrictions being discussed for the retail sector during Monday’s interview but hinted that they could be announced “in days” with the support of the Progressive Conservative government.
“I should say that many stores have adopted their own protocols with respect to line ups outside but there was more of that taking place in the spring than is taking place now and it leads to things that could be described as a crowd scene and crowd scenes are not good for restraining the spread of this virus,” he said when asked about the issue during a briefing later in the day.
Tory said that any restrictions on capacity in stores and malls are still largely “a hypothetical” because discussions are still ongoing with the province.
But he said that it is one of the things that is actively being discussed.
Meanwhile, at a separate briefing on Monday afternoon, Health Minister Christine Elliott acknowledged that her government is concerned about large numbers of people heading to malls to get their holiday shopping done but stopped short of promising new capacity restrictions as floated by Tory.
Elliot did say that she has already had several conversations with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams about “recommendations for the upcoming holiday season” and expects that to be made public “very shortly.”
“When large groups of people get together in places like malls that can end up as a super spreader event so we nee to be very careful about that,” she said. “Of course there are other ways that people can shop online and so on. We don’t want people to miss out on having a happy celebration but there are safe ways to do that and ways that aren’t going to endanger your health or the health of the people around you.”
Currently, retail stores face the same capacity limits as most other business – 50 people indoors. The province, however, has reduced the maximum capacity in some business in red zones – like bars, restaurants and gyms – to 10 people.
Whether a similar capacity could be introduced for stores remains to be seen. On Monday, Williams said that he continues to be more concerned with the spread of COVID-19 in congregate settings where people linger for longer periods of time as opposed to stores where "there is always people moving in and out." But he also conceded that there are concerns, especially when it comes to crowded shopping malls around the holidays.
“The retail one is difficult to document but our sense is that quite a few (businesses) are doing what they need to do and the public in most places are wearing masks inside as they are supposed to do. But there are some concerns,” he said. “I heard recently that sometimes in malls and there are a lot of people in there not in the retail store per se either with no masks or it is hanging off their chin. So we just have to make sure that if we are targeting things it is the right target or centre and we are not curtailing good behaviour but making sure we are trying to limit improper behaviour.”