The first day of spring is just a few weeks away, and for Canadians, that means the snow will be melting in just a few months... So of course, our thoughts turn naturally to the many exciting events that come with the arrival of springtime.
Except maybe not so much this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging and the country hunkered down, waiting for a vaccine. Some people are likelier than others to enjoy a “normal” spring this year, and it largely depends on where you are.
Among 35 major Canadian and U.S. metro areas, three are currently under overnight curfew ― Miami, Montreal and Quebec City. As of Friday, the two cities in Quebec had been under curfew for 56 days, about to exceed the 57-day curfew North Carolina had in place from December to February.
But none of those hold a candle to Miami-Dade County, which has had an overnight curfew since July 2 of last year. No other major metros in North America appear to have had curfews, other than very short-lived ones during the unrest following the killing of George Floyd last spring.
Comparing lockdowns in different cities is difficult, because different jurisdictions have followed different rules: Some places closed bars and restaurants, but kept the schools open; others did the opposite. Still more shut down both, or neither.
So as a proxy for “lockdown,” we used a ban on indoor restaurant dining. These tend to coincide with the harshest restrictions on normal activity, such as shutdowns of non-essential businesses (a term with varying definitions), or at least high-contact businesses like gyms and hair salons.
Watch: California may reopen some theme parks stadiums by April 1. Story continues below.
On that measure, Canadian cities are both among those that have been locked down the longest, and among those that have been locked down the least.
With 276 days (and counting) without indoor dining as of March 5, Toronto is second only to Los Angeles among cities in Canada and the U.S. for lockdown length. Montreal and Quebec City tie for fourth place, with 247 days and counting. That counts all periods during which indoor dining was shut since the pandemic was declared in March, 2020.
Then there is Vancouver. With just 60 days of restaurant dining room closures, its lockdown looks on par with U.S. cities like Phoenix and Dallas, where restrictions have had a light touch. But unlike in many U.S. jurisdictions, only members of the same household can share a restaurant table in British Columbia.
Just because indoor dining isn’t banned doesn’t mean there aren’t restrictions. Most places that have reopened restaurant dining rooms have implemented strict capacity limits, often at 25 per cent. Some cities have put in other regulations, such as a curfew on in-restaurant alcohol sales. Baltimore has even implemented a one-hour limit for restaurant patrons.
The restrictions on restaurant dining ― along with many other restrictions ― are starting to get on the nerves of business owners, especially as many U.S. cities and states have begun reopening recently ― even, at times, over the objections of public health officials.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business noted earlier this week that the most recent round of lockdowns in Toronto and nearby Peel Region have now cracked the 100-day mark.
“Small business owners have had enough. There is no more runway. Every additional day of lockdown increases the odds that we will lose even more local businesses for good,” the group said in a statement signed by its president and CEO, Dan Kelly, among others.
The shutdown of non-essential businesses has been particularly grating to the business group.
“Adding insult to injury, small retailers have been forced to watch their customers buy similar products at Walmart and Costco, which have been allowed to remain open to in-store shopping for the entire pandemic,” the letter said.
Ontario loosened some restrictions on Toronto and Peel in an announcement Friday, though the ban on indoor dining remains in these two municipalities.
Bringing these cities into the province’s reopening framework “is not a return to normal,” provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement.
“As we continue vaccinating more Ontarians, it remains critical for everyone to continue to follow public health measures and stay home as much as possible to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities.”
With a file from The Canadian Press