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Restaurants, bars say restrictions should have been lifted before REP


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The Alberta Hospitality Association is wondering why they were not consulted by the province for their plans to lift health orders.

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By removing the Restrictions Exemption Program on Tuesday night but leaving all other restrictions in place for restaurants and bars in the entertainment sector, they say they have been targeted by the province to continue to carry the weight of the pandemic again — this time without any layer of protection for staff and customers.

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Vern Iskauskas, a partner in the ownership of Banff’s Rose & Crown, said they want all health orders gone, along with the REP, but the REP should have been the last to go.

“It just seems like you’re putting the cart in front of the horse,” he said. “It’s just going to delay the return to normalcy. We feel, especially in the hospitality setting, people want to move around, they want to be out later, they want to dance on the dance floor, they want to play pool and do those normal things.”

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With the REP in place, there was the potential to do that while ensuring vaccination or negative tests of customers. Now that is not an option.

Health Minister Jason Copping announced the removal of the program Tuesday night, along with Premier Jason Kenney, in the first of three phases of repeals, but said the lone exception was restrictions for entertainment venues.

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The pandemic has already had a $2-million hit to the Rose & Crown’s bottom line and ownership was forced to close Wild Bills in Banff last summer, costing 65 jobs in the small tourism-driven town.

The current restrictions came into effect on Dec. 24, and forbid restaurants and bars from hosting any type of dancing or interactive activities and installed curfews and required businesses to stop alcohol sales and close early. This caused many businesses that were counting on revenues from New Year’s Eve to stay afloat to cutback or cancel plans. It was a major hit for venues planning on those dollars to get them through the next few months.

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Iskauskas has managed to keep live music coming to the Rose & Crown, but under tight guidelines of no dancing and shutting everything down at 11 p.m.

Ernie Tsu, head of the Alberta Hospitality Association, said the group was not consulted on the government’s plans and they have been rebuffed in attempts to have a sit-down discussion since last spring when Kenney announced the Best Summer Ever plan.

In a letter to the province on Tuesday, Tsu outlined their renewed requests to have a discussion before Phase 2 of the plan, which would potentially start in three weeks. They want a clear understanding of the metrics used to determine whether or not restrictions will be lifted, what restrictions will be lifted and a plan of provincial support for the hospitality industry.

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He noted the province has not provided the sector with any financial support during this wave of lockdown measures.

“It’s hard, because we have so many frustrated and beaten up owners across this province — mental health-wise it’s not good,” said Tsu. “Why does the hospitality industry keep getting targeted as the only industry responsible for COVID?

“There has been no contact tracing, there hasn’t been any testing, yet the hospitality industry remains under restrictions.”

The AHA has engaged in a letter-writing campaign with their members, having operators write the province detailing their individual finances and job losses due the health orders. They have not received a response back from the province, yet.

Not every restaurant or business is prepared to jump on board with dropping the REP and scanning QR codes.

The Ship and Anchor Pub, in a post to their social media on Wednesday, said they are “hitting pause on removing the REP” while they consult their staff, customers and wait for the city’s response.

“We are in support of the Alberta Hospitality Association response to the announcement and feel that it would be wiser to ease out of restrictions with the REP in place while removing other restrictions ahead of it, such as mingling, table caps and curfews.”

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We are choosing to hit pause on removing the Restriction Exemption Program while we consult our staff, assess customers comfort levels, and wit on the city’s response

Posted by Ship & Anchor Pub on Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Tsu said there are other members who are making the same choice and the AHA supports them in doing so.

It’s not just restaurants that are hesitant about dropping the REP.

Mike Du, owner of Revive Lifestyle Fitness, told Postmedia the program appears to have made a difference and they will wait to talk to their members and staff before making a decision to pull it.

“For our business and the type of clientele we have, for sure it helped consumer confidence,” Du said.

“What my message to the team yesterday was let’s keeping running business as usual. We are not making any drastic changes to remove the REP program. We may in the near future, I can’t say for sure, but as of right now we are going to keep it up until we have a…discussion and see what the next few days are like and how things unfold.”

The province did not return multiple request for comment prior to publication.

jaldrich@postmedia.com

Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

— With files from Chris Varcoe

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