By putting the region in what Lord Mayor Betty Disero is calling the orange-and-a-half category, or a “reddish orange,” the Niagara medical officer of health is harming businesses that are unable to access provincial COVID-19 funding relief available to those in lockdown or the red zone.
Businesses in orange, yellow and green zones are ineligible for funding relief, while those in red or grey can apply for government funding, such as rent and wage subsidies, Disero says. Niagara restaurants, operating under provincial orange restrictions, have been handed an extra layer of limits, including allowing only customers from one household, with some exceptions, to sit together at a table.
“This is really at the heart of why businesses are upset,” Disero told councillors at Monday’s meeting.
Businesses “all want to be open, and they all want to work, but the fact of the matter is they’ve been given additional restrictions and are not able to get any assistance.”
She said MPP Wayne Gates was going to ask the Province this week to open up the government assistance programs to include Niagara.
Disero’s other concern is the potential spread of the coronavirus at the outlet mall and on Queen Street, and how to make it safer for Black Friday and weekend shoppers this weekend, many of whom she fears will be from the higher risk areas such as Toronto and Peel. She suggested that a mask bylaw for outdoors might be helpful.
She’s talked to management at the mall, who say the stores are only allowing a certain number of people in their stores at a time, and most shoppers are wearing masks.
The mall management is willing to put up signs to ask shoppers to wear masks no matter where they are on the property, she says, and say they will close a gate to stop cars from entering the parking lot if it gets too busy.
“But my biggest concern is while they’re waiting in line to get in the store, and they’re not wearing masks and are breathing all over each other, they may as well just go out for lunch together.”
Planning director Craig Larmour explained a mask bylaw outdoors could be instituted, but it can’t target a specific group or enterprise. “We would have to take particular care in constructing a bylaw.”
Bylaw enforcement would be a problem, he explained. Contracts have run out for some bylaw staff who were taken on for the summer, although other employees could step in to do that job. “I’m not sure how effective they would be if there is no opportunity for enforcement.”
The mall has its own security detail and could have that presence and “officious” appearance, Larmour said. “I’m not sure our bylaw officers could do anything.”
Coun. Gary Burroughs suggested that since the outlet mall is a private property, he would be happy to see them institute mask-wearing everywhere on the property, and it would be up to them to enforce it.
A bylaw for masks outside on Queen Street would not be helpful unless the Town is prepared to enforce it, he said. “We can pass any bylaw we want,” he said, but “until we decide to charge people for not wearing masks, it’s not going to be successful.”
Coun. Wendy Cheropita also suggested the outlet mall be encouraged to ask people to wear masks and enforce it themselves.
Coun. Clare Cameron said the outlet mall is a “magnet” for people coming from all over the province, especially the GTA, and the “real issue is people visiting from areas they’re not supposed to leave,” asking what the Province can do about that.
Larmour explained that Premier Doug Ford has asked people to stay home, and not leave their municipalities, but that is a recommendation, rather than a regulation.
Disero was encouraged to ask the outlet mall management to do whatever possible to institute mask-wearing on the property and enforce it.