OTTAWA -- On the day Ottawa moved into the Red-Control zone, Ontario has loosened capacity restrictions for bars and restaurants.

Starting at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, capacity limits at restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments in the red zone will be 50 per cent capacity of the indoor dining area, subject to physical distancing rules and up to a maximum of 50 people.

The province made the announcement late Friday afternoon, saying in a news release it was "cautiously adjusting" dining capacity limits at restaurants and bars under its COVID-19 rules.

"Capacity limits for indoor dining will be adjusted and based on a standard, scalable calculation," the news release said.

Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa business owners had expressed concerns with the previous capacity rules for bars and restaurants in the red zone, which had been capped at 10 people maximum.

"I spoke out against this arbitrary figure of 10 people in a restaurant, regardless of the size. It just doesn't make any sense," said Watson in an interview with CTV News Ottawa before Ontario changed the capacity limits

"You could have a family restaurant that seats 150 people and only be allowed 10 people, then have a café that seats 20 people and you're allowed 10 people."

Watson says Ontario's Big City Mayor's discussed the issue of expanding capacity limits while in the red zone on Friday morning.

"We need to get the province to understand that one-size doesn't fit all. When you're in the red zone, as we're in now, two things we ask the province: one, give us proper advance notice so that these restaurants can make the necessary changes to staffing and inventory and so on, and food doesn't go to waste," said Watson.

"And secondly, base the criteria for setting the number of people in an establishment based on the size of the establishment, not the number of people coming in."

The Ottawa Board of Trade, the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas and the Regroupement des gen d'affaires de la Capital nationale sent a letter to Premier Doug Ford on Thursday, asking the province implement a capacity limit based on the size of the establishment.

"Our immediate ask as Ottawa enters the red zone in the framework is to change from hard caps to a percentage of capacity in service areas of all businesses regardless of the sector," said the letter.

"This supports the physical distancing mandate. In addition, it ensures the percentage of capacity is equal for all businesses. The spread of the virus does not change depending on whether you are at a supermarket or hardware store."

Under the new rules for the Red-Control zone, only members of the same household can dine together indoors at bars and restaurants.

"For indoor dining, patrons may only be seated with members of their same households, with limited exceptions for caregivers and people who live alone," says the regulations.


On Thursday, Watson said he was surprised the Ontario government announced on Thursday that Ottawa was moving into the red zone, to be implemented on Friday, instead of waiting until Monday.

Watson repeated on Friday he "supports" the move into the red zone, but wished businesses had more time to prepare.

"All we need is advance notice. We're not disputing the fact that we're in red territory but the tradition had been that the province reviewed the numbers on Tuesday, cabinet on Wednesday, announced it publicly on Friday for implementation on Monday," said Watson.

"A lot of these restaurants followed those rules on the assumption that they would be open on the weekend because they'd be given two days notice and they bought all their food for the weekend. It's a very big hit to them."

On Twitter, Ontario cabinet minister Lisa MacLeod took issue with the mayor saying he wished businesses had received a heads up.

"The decision to move the timing for Ottawa’s entry to red to this Friday was at the direct request of Ottawa Public Health and Dr. Etches. She had been raising alarm bells for over two weeks about the spread of COVID," said MacLeod.

In the letter sent to the premier, the Ottawa Board of Trade, the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas and the Regroupement des gen d'affaires de la Capital nationale repeated a call to give businesses "adequate notice" when there is a status change.