Better late than never, health unit lifts Section 22 order on capacity restrictions

More than a day after capacity restrictions were lifted by the province in businesses requiring proof of vaccination, the Middlesex-London Health Unit on Tuesday afternoon finally modified its Section 22 order which kept those restrictions in place.

“We couldn’t do anything Doug Ford told us,” said Adam Winkler, who owns and operates Winks Eatery on London’s Richmond Row. “We had to continue doing everything we did for the last year and a half.”

The Section 22 Order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act required barriers in between tables or physical distancing of two metres. It was put in place last month in anticipation of Western University celebrations around Homecoming and Fake Homecoming (HoCo or FoCo).

Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Alex Summers said they didn’t forget, rather, the provincial regulations changed so rapidly they didn’t have time to respond right away.

“We wanted to make sure that we had full understanding of the provincial regulations before we modified the order. Again, things come very quickly on a Friday afternoon and we have to act through the weekend and into yesterday.”

According to the health unit, those who fail to comply could face fines of $750 for individuals and $1,000 for a business or organization.

The modified order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

One part of the Section 22 Order that will remain in place is that food and drink can only be consumed in designated areas. Summers said patrons must wear a mask anywhere else in an establishment.

“What we’re trying to avoid here is the proverbial loophole where somebody’s up and dancing with a drink in their hand, no physical distance, mingling with a bunch of people, and their mask is off because they’ve got a drink in their hand.”

Meanwhile, as the hard-hit restaurant industry in London continues to recover from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, many restaurateurs are calling for patio extensions to be expanded into next year.

London city council granted restaurants and bars extra outdoor space so they would have a better chance at surviving pandemic restrictions, including lockdowns and reduced capacity.

Winkler said restaurants are hoping the program goes into next year and beyond, and that council makes a decision sooner rather than later so restaurants can plan.

“Why not do it again? You know it’s been proven that we don’t need to jump through all the hoops and fill out all the fine print. It made it a lot easier for us, a lot less stressful for all our businesses that have been dealing with everything, and the sanctions and everything else.”

CTV News London has learned that a staff report with patio recommendations is expected to be published Wednesday.

The health unit’s Section 22 Order for organized public events and social gatherings remains in effect.

— With files from CTV News London's Kristylee Varley