Ontario orders all strip clubs to shut down, imposes new alcohol rules for bars and restaurants
Published Friday, September 25, 2020 7:28AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, September 25, 2020 10:41PM EDT
Ontario will order all strip clubs in the province to shut down temporarily by Saturday and require all restaurants, bars and nightclubs to close by midnight each night as part of new measures to control a surge in coronavirus cases this month.
Starting at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, all bars, restaurants and nightclubs in Ontario will be required to stop serving alcohol by 11 p.m., and close their doors entirely by midnight, except for takeout and delivery.
They will also be prohibited from allowing employees to consume alcohol and gather with each other while closed.
The measures will also require all businesses in the province to develop daily COVID-19 symptom screening protocols for all employees.
"These measures are designed to address the rapid increase in community transmission in order to keep schools, businesses and post-secondary institutions open and to protect our most vulnerable," Health Minister Christine Elliott said Friday.
"On the advice of Ontario's public health officials, we are moving forward with these measures to help keep Ontarians safe by limiting the potential for exposure in locations where the current risk of transmission is higher, and to avoid future lockdowns."
Two strip clubs in Toronto have been tied to a total of nine COVID-19 infections in recent months, with incomplete contact tracing logs forcing public health officials to publicly identify both establishments and issue blanket warnings about both.
A September exposure at Toronto's Rebel nightclub lead to at least four COVID-19 infections.
The proportion of new infections detected each day in September belonging to the 20-39 age cohort has risen considerably since late July, with cases involving those under 40 regularly accounting for two-thirds or more of all infections.
"I think the vast majority of restaurant owners, they have been responsible but there have been outbreaks and we have to be proactive," Premier Doug Ford said Friday.
"I don't think it's the end of the world if people stop drinking at 11(p.m.)"
He would not say how long the new restrictions would last except to say "it won't be forever."
The restaurant and bar alcohol restrictions have been something Toronto Mayor John Tory has been asking the province for in recent weeks, while strip club closures have been suggested by several leading epidemiologists.
"Other regional mayors in the GTA asked me to do this, the mayor of London asked me to do this, as well as the local chief medical officers," Ford said of the decision.
He acknowledged that restricting restaurant and bar hours of operation was something they did not need after a punishing lockdown, but insisted it was necessary.
"These people are hurting, they're holding on by their fingertips – most of them are following procedures and protocols – but there are not that many people going out for dinner after midnight," he said.
Toronto Mayor John Tory welcomed the move, writing in support of it on Twitter.
Earlier in the week the Ford government announced an increased influenza vaccination campaign and $1 billion more to ramp up coronavirus testing, contact tracing and outbreak management.
Ontario's daily COVID-19 case counts continue to hover around the 400 mark, prompting the government to cut the size of indoor and outdoor private gatherings across the province and cancel any plans to further loosen other restrictions.
The return of public schools and increased case counts has put a strain on Ontario's daily testing capacity, with the backlog of unprocessed specimens surpassing the daily maximum processing capacity three times this week.
For its part, the opposition NDP issued a statement Friday afternoon calling the successive announcements of new spending and new restrictions an example of "chaos."
"They are in chaos. They are scrambling. And everyday Ontarians are paying the price — a price that could climb if we continue to operate without a proper, comprehensive and effective second wave strategy," NDP leader Andrea Horwath said Friday.
"Their current so-called plan is not working.”
Asked why the new measures were not enacted sooner, as infections have been increasing for several weeks, Ford said the Chief Medical Officer and his team were "pragmatic" and always considered the impact each measure will have on the economy.
"They understand the economy as well – they understand we have to keep peoples livelihoods going."