TORONTO — Restaurants and bars across Ontario must now keep records of their clients to help track any possible spread of COVID-19, officials said Friday as Toronto and Peel Region joined most of the province in allowing establishments to resume indoor service.
The new health measures, which include requirements to keep client logs for 30 days and for patrons to stay seated while on-site, came as the two areas entered Stage 3 of Ontario's economic recovery plan. Only Windsor-Essex, which continues to grapple with outbreaks on farms, remains in Stage 2.
Premier Doug Ford said the rules were meant to protect customers and staff as more services are reinstated.
"When you face an invisible enemy, tracking and tracing is absolutely critical," he said in a news conference in which he also lauded a new, voluntary contact-tracing app developed in Ontario. The free app helps notify users if they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, but does not collect personally identifiable information.
"These tools and measures are absolutely critical to ensuring our province reopens safely."
An organization representing the restaurant industry said that while enacting provincewide standards is helpful for both business owners and customers, Friday's announcement came as a surprise.
James Rilett of Restaurants Canada said the organization wasn't consulted on the changes and some establishments may struggle to make the necessary adjustments in time for the weekend.
The new rules call for more detailed record-keeping than what most municipalities require, such as noting when patrons arrive and leave. He said the new regulation could prove difficult, particularly in quick-service or casual dining environments.
"It's a Friday before a long weekend and we have to get this message to all the members, to all the restaurants and tell them what the new expectation is," Rilett said, referring to the civic holiday. "They have to train their staff, they have to put in new systems to be able to track this."
But he said establishments that are set on reopening are unlikely to delay as a result of the changes.
"They would have already booked staff, they would have already ordered the food and whatever they require to be open," he said.
Toronto city council has enacted a series of additional health measures beyond those set by the province in preparation for the change, including capacity and table size limits for indoor dining in restaurants.
Rilett said business owners in the city were given a week's notice to prepare.
Some restaurants and food service establishments in the city chose to hold off on reopening for the time being, despite getting the green light to do so.
In a post on Twitter, restaurant owner Jen Agg said her team didn't feel "quite ready" to resume operations.
"We want to know that it's safe before we put any of you at any unnecessary risk," she wrote in a letter to staff. "If this phase goes well — and it's possible it will, with proper precautions — then we will revisit this stance in a couple or three weeks."
Meanwhile, the province's associate medical officer of health said officials continue to monitor areas that entered Stage 3 earlier this month and have seen a rise in new cases recently.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe said her office has been in touch with the health unit in Ottawa, which reported 26 new cases on Friday, to see what it believes is causing the increase.
"Is it still private parties, bars, is it any impact potentially from opening Stage 3?" she said. "We have to figure out how these people are getting infected and implement strategies to reduce that transmission."
Ontario reported 134 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, and three new deaths related to the novel coronavirus.
The total number of cases now stands at 39,209, which includes 35,074 resolved cases and 2,775 deaths. Twenty-four of the new cases were in Windsor-Essex.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said that while there was a slight uptick in new COVID-19 cases compared with the last two days, 28 of the province's 34 public health units are reporting five or fewer new cases.
The province said it was able to complete more than 30,000 tests the previous day.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 31, 2020.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press