'We were dreading it': Ottawa businesses brace for four-week COVID-19 shutdown

An Ottawa small business advocate calls the four-week Ontario shutdown "crushing" news, adding there may be more pushback to the new rules from businesses.

Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday afternoon that Ontario is imposing a "province-wide emergency brake" as a result of a surge in COVID-19 cases. During the shutdown, indoor and outdoor dining at bars and restaurants is prohibited, and personal care services and gyms must close.

The province-wide emergency brake will be effective Saturday, April 3 at 12:01 a.m. and the government intends to keep it in place for at least four weeks.

"We were dreading it. I think we were expecting it," Michael Wood, owner of Special Events Ottawa, told CTV Morning Live on Thursday ahead of the announcement.

"Last night, I didn't sleep very much. The social media reaction from small business owners was upsetting. There's a lot of people, this is potentially their last go," said Wood.

"I got a message this morning asking if I knew a lawyer for liquidation and closing their business. I think this is going to affect a lot more people this time than it has in the past."

On Wednesday, medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she recommended to Ontario chief's medical officer of health that Ottawa move into the Grey-Lockdown level.

"We are at a point that we have never seen before in this pandemic," Etches said. "We are seeing what we feared. The vaccine hasn’t arrived in time to outpace the growth in our community."

CTV Morning Live host Leslie Roberts asked Wood if Ottawa Bylaw and Regulatory Services needs to worry about compliance to the shutdown rules.

"100 per cent, you are correct. So there is way more pushback this time than I've seen ever before and I think that compliance could be something that our Bylaw is going to have to deal with," said Wood. "I think that the idea of mounting more protests across, not only Ottawa, but Ontario we're going to see it."

The shutdown in Ottawa comes as Ottawa sees eight consecutive days of triple-digit COVID-19 case numbers. On Wednesday, the positivity rate was 5.9 per cent for the previous seven days.

Wood says he spoke to Ottawa Public Health several times this week, and was asked for possible recommendations to curb the spread of COVID-19.

"I think the one thing that people are struggling with is the restaurants and small business have taken these precautions, and when we start closing those places people are going to inherently go home and people are going to go with them," said Wood.

"We're taking people out of a controlled environment into a non-controlled environment. So I think one of the big issues right now is how do we control this because the numbers are going up."

Essential stores will be allowed to open at 50 per cent capacity, while non-essential retail, including shopping malls, can operate at 25 per cent capacity.

"Business owners are absolutely apoplectic. It is so disappointment to see what's become of Ontario's business community," said Dan Kelly, Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

"Businesses aren't going to survive this. There are thousands of thousands that are packing it in every single day that the restrictions continue."

During an interview on CTV News at Noon, Kelly said the federation is worried the looming month-long shutdown will send business closures "sky-high."

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business had said 180,000 small business across the province would close during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Kelly says "everybody knows we have to take this seriously," but small businesses are wondering if lockdowns and business closures are helping to reduce COVID-19 cases in Ontario.

"I sit in Toronto right now, that's been in North America's longest lockdown. Restaurants have been now closed, as of today, indoor dining has been shutdown for 300 days, gyms for 293 days, hair salons, nail salons for 225 days, yet COVID is out of control," said Kelly.

"So, are these measures that are not going to be reapplied to the entire province, actually leading to a reduction in COVID cases, because if that were the case this should have worked in Toronto an awful lot sooner.  I worry that we're putting failed measures back in place across the province."