Small venues in Ottawa question COVID-19 capacity limits

The Bronson Centre. (Jackie Perez/CTV News Ottawa)

As hockey fans celebrate full capacity for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators home openers this week, the rules around crowd capacity in other venues is drawing criticism.

Since Saturday, indoor venues like theatres, concert halls and arenas were given the green light by the provincial government to have a crowd up to 100 percent capacity.

But there’s a catch, it only applies if a venue has designated seating.

"When we first got the news last Friday we went, 'That’s too good to be true.' Of course it is too good to be true because there are stipulations,” said Danny Sivyer, the owner of the Rainbow Bistro in Ottawa’s ByWard Market.  “For venues like us we have two-third seating, one-third standing, we will be limited to our seats."

Sevyer says the Rainbow Bistro was already on the brink of closure due to the pandemic, but thanks to some financial help from community members he’s able to keep the doors open a little longer.

But his venue is still capped at 100 people and doesn’t understand why there’s a discrepancy. 

"As many chairs we can put in the room," he said. "That’s how many people we can have in.”

Meantime, Ontario’s restaurant industry is fuming because it's still restricted to maintain two meters of distance between the table, which the industry says, effectively limits the number of diners. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce is puzzled over the rationale.

"Show us the case why you can have tens of thousands of people in a sports arena yelling and cheering for their team and yet you can’t be around a table in a restaurant," said OCC President Rocco Rossi. "It’s difficult for us to accept."

Provincial health officials say bars, restaurants, and clubs are still a concern for outbreaks. However, in recent weeks, there have been fewer cases associated with the entertainment industry than in schools in Ontario.

The province says as public health indicators remain stable or improve, the chief medical officer of health will continue to re-evaluate restrictions.

Sevyer says the easing of capacity limits is a step in the right direction.

"Hopefully by from what we hear this is going to be this way next spring it will open up more," he said.

Sources told CTV News Toronto Wednesday night that Ontario is considering exiting Step 3 of the Roadmap to Reopen plan as early as next week, which would further ease pandemic restrictions.