Ottawa and eastern Ontario likely in Stage 3 for 'most of 2020': Eastern Ontario top doctor
The parking lot outside OCCO Kitchen has been transformed into a patio as restaurants find creative ways to entertain customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Katie Griffin / CTV News Ottawa)
OTTAWA -- As Ottawa and eastern Ontario enter Stage 3 of the COVID-19 reopening plan, the eastern Ontario medical officer of health says he and some of his colleagues wish indoor bars were required to stay closed to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Paul Roumeliotis also says there should be increased bylaw enforcement targeting bars to make sure establishments are following the COVID-19 measures as they reopen for dine-in service.
Starting Friday, restaurants can open for dine-in service, and gyms, movie theatres and other businesses are allowed to open in Ottawa and eastern Ontario. Bars are allowed to open for dine-in eating, but no dancing or walking around is permitted in the establishment.
"Many of my medical officer of health colleagues were a bit disappointed that bars were actually included," said Dr. Roumeliotis about Ontario allowing bars and restaurants to reopen for indoor dining during Stage 3.
"Although you can have the best intentions. You can limit 50 people, don't dance, don't walk around, but if you're drinking and sometimes you lose your inhibitions those things go out the window."
Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA's Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts, Dr. Roumeliotis noted the Quebec Government has ordered bars to stop serving at 12 a.m. across Quebec following an increase in COVID-19 cases, mostly in Montreal.
"We would have preferred not to have bars right away open. Let's start with dine in restaurants first," said Dr. Roumeliotis.
"Essentially they're treating them like dine-in restaurants. You are going to go in, sit down, not walk around, not mingle, not dance. So hopefully those restrictions will be abided by and we won't get the increase cases that we've got in Quebec."
The Ontario Medical Association released a statement Friday afternoon, calling on the Ontario Government to rethink opening indoor bars.
"The evidence from other jurisdictions is that the reopening of bars carries significant risk," said OMA President Dr. Samantha Hill.
"When people consume alcohol, inhibitions are lowered, making them much less likely to practice physical distancing, proper masking behaviours and good hand hygiene. Indoor locations with decreased air ventilation present a particularly high risk of transmission
Host Leslie Roberts asked Dr. Roumeliotis if there should be extra policing of bars and restaurants in the short-term to ensure the rules are followed.
"I think people should be more diligent," said Dr. Roumeliotis adding that bylaw officers should conduct enforcement of the COVID-19 rules that encourage physical distancing.
"There should be presence there to ensure that, because to me that's a very high-risk area. So, I think if you're going to do any enforcement, or any policing or any surveillance, it should be really focused on a high-risk area. We have evidence that it's high risk because we've seen it in Quebec."
The president of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association tells CTV News Ottawa "the entire industry is concerned not only by what we see in Quebec, but also in the U.S."
But Tony Elenis says there are rules in place to make sure bars and restaurants follow the COVID-19 measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.
"Tough protocols in a people's industry, but they are there and the industry is ready."
Tracy Turnbull of the Moonroom on Preston Street said it's important for bars and restaurants to continue to allow in-person dining.
"We didn't go through all this to have it rolled back again. I'll just have to hand the keys over to someone else if they actually shut us down again," said Turnbull, noting the four month shutdown devastated the industry.
"We have to stay open."
Ottawa and eastern Ontario enter Stage 3 of Ontario's COVID-19 reopening plan on Friday, just over a month after entering Stage 2 that allowed more businesses to open.
Host Leslie Roberts asked Dr. Roumeliotis if Ottawa and eastern Ontario will remain in Stage 3 for the "foreseeable future" and into the fall. Dr. Roumeliotis said "yes", adding there's three phases to the pandemic.
"There is the acute phase which is phase 1, which was March until we entered the second phase, which started with Stage 1. So Phase 2 has three stages, one, two and now we're three," said Dr. Roumeliotis about the start of Stage 3 of the business reopening on Friday.
"Phase 3 itself is recovery once we have a vaccine. So, we're going to be in Stage 3 for the foreseeable future, for sure for the next few months for sure, likely most of 2020. I can't predict beyond that."
Dr. Roumeliotis said it's important for public health units to keep "all the mechanisms in place" like contact tracing and surveillance, along with encouraging people to do their part to limit the spread of COVID-19.
"Wear your masks, socially distance, wash your hands, don't go out when your sick," said Dr. Roumeliotis.
"Those are the things that kept us safer than other countries as we went through the first wave and those things together, although we're increasing the gatherings and those type of things, I think will be important for us to prevent a second wave."