With a vaccine passport program now in effect, Windsor-Essex restaurant and bars owners say it should be last call for the midnight "curfew" imposed by public health.
Bars, nightclubs and restaurants have to close by 12 a.m. under a letter of instruction from Windsor-Essex County Health Unit that took effect on Sept. 7. Under the rules, dancing is not permitted either.
The rules were announced while Windsor-Essex had more than 500 active cases of COVID-19, along with some of the highest rates of COVID-19 and test positivity in the province.
But now that case rates are easing and the provincial vaccination certification program guarantees that only vaccinated people are allowed in bars and indoor dining establishments, some in the hospitality sector want to see the rule revisited.
WKND Hospitality Group, which owns The Bull & Barrel, The Goat Tap & Eateries, and Wild Child Nightlife, launched a petition that as of Thursday afternoon has garnered nearly 1,400 signatures.
Matt Komsa, one of the co-owners of WKND Hospitality, questioned why Windsor-Essex is the only jurisdiction in Ontario to have these "punitive" restrictions in place.
"My second question to the health unit is, now that we're only letting in vaccinated patrons...why do we still have to adhere to the letter of instruction, recommendations or laws? Those are all based off of pre-vaccination passport numbers," he said.
'You will see layoffs'
Prior to the new rules, downtown Windsor had been booming — the best Komsa said he's seen in a dozen years. When the letter of instruction took effect it was devastating for businesses but understandable given the status of the pandemic at that time, Komsa said.
Now, he said, business is down 90 per cent at one of the group's locations, and the impact is being felt across the industry. If the measures stay in place, he says there will be consequences.
"You will see layoffs, you will see defaulted payments and you will see businesses closing in the downtown core. I can guarantee that," he said.
Tom Lucier, owner of Phog Lounge and co-owner of Meteor, said that since businesses implemented the vaccine passport, they would expect something in return such as larger capacity and later closure times.
"This is super common sense and extremely normal for everyone to be expecting," he said, adding that a petition shouldn't be necessary.
He said there's been no "rhyme or reason" to the midnight closure and said he believes it's about morality.
"It isn't really about how people behave, because people can get intoxicated and break rules and avoid rules well before midnight, and they do," he said.
"And what is foolishly being ignored is the fact that people leave my bar at midnight now and they go to house parties where there is no contact tracing."
Measures likely had effect, WECHU says
Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, acting medical officer of health, said he recognizes that the policies are challenging for the businesses but said the local case rate remains fourth highest in Ontario, and the percentage of people testing positive is the third highest.
It's likely that that the measure had some impact, he said.
"It's worth noting that before that public health direction was implemented that there were 44 restaurants that had exposures of COVID-19 that ultimately lead to 67 cases, so since the restrictions have come forth, that number has been reduced to six restaurants associated with eight cases," he said on Wednesday.
The health unit will continue to evaluate data and the policy, he said.