Changes to Bar, Restaurant, and Nightclub Operations to Reduce Spread of COVID-19

Provincial Changes to Bar, Restaurant, and Nightclub Operations to Reduce Spread of COVID-19

There's no easy way to say this: we have reached a dangerous tipping point in our battle with COVID-19. With rising case counts and a reproduction number above 1, all signs point to an untenable situation that could trigger significant lockdowns – unless we act now.

At the same time, our collective objectives have shifted from what they were back in March. While we remain committed to doing everything we can to limit transmission, preserve the capacity of the health care system, and save lives, it's also important that we strive to maintain a level of re-opening that makes it possible for kids to go to school, people to go to work, and public services and supports to operate safely. If we all work together, we can still do this.

With that in mind, I welcome the news from the Ontario Government today that new restrictions will be placed on bars, restaurants, and other food and drink establishments (such as nightclubs), including reduced operating hours. By prohibiting the sale of alcohol after 11 pm, and requiring establishments to close by midnight, these measures will help reduce late-night socializing and close contact that can facilitate virus transmission.

When Toronto prepared to enter Stage 3 over the summer, City Council approved Toronto-specific requirements for indoor dining at bars and restaurants, including capacity limits, staff screening, and mandatory record keeping. We also called for reduced operating hours. Now, with the significant rise in cases over the past few weeks, it's clear that more needs to be done. We need a response that is data-driven, fast, and comprehensive, and targets high-risk areas.

Living with COVID-19 may be the new normal, but accepting drastic spikes in cases doesn't have to be. I want to be clear: both individual behavioral changes and policy interventions are required. Every single resident has a role to play in helping to prevent the spread, by committing to continue to wash your hands, wear your mask, and keep your distance of at least six feet from anyone outside of your household.

But individual behavior on its own is not enough. Other jurisdictions that have been successful at containing the virus have shown that we need policies that directly respond to the very real risks that we're facing. While today's announcement is welcome news, we still need more proactive actions on the part of all governments – and we need it now.

We need to boost our testing capacity across the province, so that people aren't waiting in lines for hours to get a COVID-19 test. We need the Ontario Government and the Federal Government to work together to roll out rapid at-home surveillance testing options, which can be implemented in high-risk schools and work places. We need improvements to the lab reporting system, so that public health units can access real-time results. We need improvements to data sharing, so that we can effectively enforce the mandatory isolation requirements under the federal Quarantine Act. 

We need stronger protections and supports for people in areas that have been hit the hardest by this virus – whether they are employees at a workplace, clients of a shelter or long-term care home, or residents in high-transmission groups and neighbourhoods. 

At the City of Toronto, we will continue to work closely with both the Federal and Provincial Governments to implement the recommendations of our Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, and the Board of Health, which include scaling up case and contact tracing capacity, and enhancing supports for vulnerable people disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Earlier this week, the Board of Health also expressed its unanimous support for any additional measures that our Medical Officer of Health deems necessary to reduce transmission. Every option is on the table.

Right now, we have a window of opportunity to turn this trend around. If we put in place real measures to keep people safe, and stay committed to each doing our part, we can still prevent a staggering second wave in our city.   

City Announces Shutdown of 4 Establishments to Help Stop Spread of COVID-19

New Toronto Public Health data shows that social activity and close contact in specific establishments in the entertainment and hospitality sector in our city are contributing to rising transmission rates. This isn't the case in every bar or restaurant, or in every neighbourhood – it's concentrated in specific locations. At these establishments, staff and patrons are not maintaining their physical distance and are coming into close contact with people outside their household, leading to a rise in cases. As this data has just become available, we need to act fast to respond to the new information, and prevent a significant lockdown.

Based on this information, our Medical Officer of Health is ordering the closure of four establishments until further notice. The establishments are only allowed to re-open once Toronto Public Health deems them to be safe. Additional establishments have already voluntarily closed and are working closely with Toronto Public Health. These actions build on our recommendations from earlier this week, when the Board voiced our unanimous support for the Medical Officer of Health to pursue any measures she deemed necessary to reduce transmission and help keep people safe.

The list of establishments will be released to the public as soon as all orders under the Health Protection and Promotion Act have officially been delivered.

When Toronto prepared to enter Stage 3 over the summer, City Council approved Toronto-specific requirements for indoor dining at bars and restaurants, including capacity limits, staff screening, and mandatory record keeping. Our Medical Officer of Health also recommended that the Ontario Government reduce operating hours for bars, restaurants and nightclubs – a move that the Province announced today they will be implementing.

While this is a good step, it's clear that we need to ramp up our efforts. Toronto Public Health and the City of Toronto are in active conversations about additional measures that we can take now – on our own and with the support of the Province – and I will have further updates for you in the days ahead.

COVID-19 Information and Resources

It is important to stay informed through credible sources, and to follow the advice of our public health professionals. Together we can limit the spread of COVID-19. 

Please visit the Toronto Public Health COVID-19 website for the up-to-date information and resources:

Government COVID-19 websites

City of Toronto
Province of Ontario
Government of Canada

Telehealth Ontario
Call if you develop symptoms.
Telephone: 1-866-797-0000

Toronto Public Health Hotline
8:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Call if you have questions about COVID-19.
Telephone: 416-338-7600
TTY: 416-392-0658
Email: [email protected]

311 Toronto
Outside City limits: 416-392-2489
Call if you have questions about City services.
Telephone: 311
TTY: 416-338-0889