Rethink allowing bars to resume serving indoors during Stage 3, OMA tells Ford government

Premier Doug Ford’s government should rethink allowing bars to resume serving customers indoors as a large swath of the province enters Stage 3 of the COVID-19 reopening plan, the Ontario Medical Association says.

In a statement released Friday, the OMA says that while reopening the economy is important for Ontarians’ financial, social and developmental needs, it is not an “all or nothing situation,” adding that bars have been shown to fuel the spread of the novel coronavirus in other parts of Canada and in other countries.

“A balanced approach that considers the risk of disease transmission in different settings is essential to ensure a successful reopening that keeps safety a top priority,” the statement reads. 

Last week, CBC Toronto reported the province’s Stage 3 reopening plans, which will allow for activities such as indoor dining in restaurants, live performing arts shows and the reopening of movie theatres and playgrounds — albeit with significant health and safety measures in place, including physical distancing, enhanced cleaning protocols and Plexiglas barriers.

The province officially moved into Stage 3 Friday, with the exception of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, the Niagara Region and Windsor-Essex, which will remain in Stage 2 for now. 

Reopening bars ‘carries significant risk’

“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 practise physical distancing, proper masking behaviours and good hand hygiene. Indoor locations with decreased air ventilation present a particularly high risk of transmission.” 

In a tweet Friday, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission in Ontario (AGCO) said it will be teaming up with the city to increase inspections this weekend. 

A photo of the interior of iconic LGBTQ bar The Beaver in Toronto taken before the pandemic. The owners have closed the location for good because it’s far too cramped to allow for physical distancing. The OMA says bars have been shown to contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in other jurisdictions. (Ramy Arida/The Beaver Facebook page)

“Given recent examples of bars in Toronto violating the restrictions set out in the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, the AGCO, @cityoftoronto and @TorontoPolice will be teaming up to increase inspections of liquor licensed establishments in the city this weekend,” the tweet reads.

In the statement, the OMA also noted recent outbreaks tied to indoor bars have been occurring around the world with recent examples, not only in other countries, such as Spain, Britain and the United States, but also in Quebec.

“Here in Canada, we have seen a spike in cases in Montreal many of which can be traced back to bars.” the statement reads. “New cases linked to bars have jumped from 30 to 45 in one day and that number is expected to rise.”

“It is important to note that in many of these cases, the bars were following public safety guidelines and yet transmission still occurred.” the statement reads.

“We know how important reopening is for business and Ontario’s economy and we strongly urge the government to learn from other jurisdiction’s mistakes when it comes to reopening bars,” said OMA CEO Allan O’Dette. “We need to keep moving forward but caution is needed as we can’t afford another full lockdown.”

The OMA recommends that anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 self-isolate and get tested.

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