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Thunder Bay district pandemic lockdown "devastating" for small business, says chamber

Province puts northwestern Ontario Northwest into the grey zone
Sleeping Giant

The decision by the provincial government and health officials to place the Thunder Bay district on grey lockdown measures on March 1 isn't going down well with the Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce.

"This lockdown will be devastating for many small businesses," said a frustrated chamber president Charla Robinson in a Feb. 26 news release. 

"Unfortunately, like so many others who have been impacted by COVID-19, the small business owners I've spoken with have been discouraged by a cycle of promised help that doesn't come."

Robinson said many small businesses remain wanting for financial support promised by Premier Doug Ford last December, while the chamber's calls for "stronger testing and tracing systems to control virus spread have largely gone unanswered."

"Clear and consistent restrictions and health protocols remain elusive as businesses are being shut down or forced to significantly change their service model based solely on the products and services they offer. The current system favours large department stores and online retailers over locally-operated small businesses," she said.

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The number of active cases in the coverage area of the Thunder Bay and District Health Unit stands at 350, with a spike of 277 occurring within this week. The health unit announced 60 new cases on Feb.26.

Under Ontario's colour-code control measures, grey is charactered as “widescale measures and restrictions, including closures, to halt or interrupt transmission.”

For restaurants and bars that means indoor and outdoor services are prohibited with only take-out, drive-through and delivery permitted. Meeting and event spaces are closed.

For retailers, that means 50 per cent capacity for stores that primarily sell groceries, convenience stores and pharmacies, and 25 per cent for other retailer, including discount and big box retailers, liquor stores, hardware stores and garden centres.

The surge in COVID-19 cases was preventable, Robinson said, as local leaders pleaded for help from the province to address the outbreak among Thunder Bay's homeless population. The result will be shuttered schools and hospital resources stretched to the limit, she said.

"Public health and economic health are closely linked - until we get this health crisis under control, we will not have a healthy business climate," Robinson said.

"We need help to suppress the flames of COVID in our city - we need the province to step up with resources for our health unit and social services community and we need every citizen to diligently follow the rules to stop the spread."