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Province's new stay-at-home measures causing chaos, confusion with small businesses

Barrie Chamber of Commerce executive director says he wishes the province would release all of the details at once, instead of leaving people wondering

The provincial government's emergency declaration to stop the spread of COVID-19, which takes effect one minute after midnight tonight, is causing confusion among many business owners.

On Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford announced that people will only be allowed to leave their homes for essential purposes. Those out for anything other than essential reasons could face a fine and even up to one year in jail, with police and bylaw officers having the power to enforce the stay-at-home order and issue tickets to rule-breakers as needed.

The province is expected to release more details on what is deemed essential and what someone would have to do to face a fine.

With so much confusion behind it all, local businesses are left asking many questions. 

Jeff Walters, owner of Jeff Walters Jewellers on Bayfield Street, told BarrieToday he knows buying a diamond while people are dying is not essential. While he doesn't debate the need for further restrictions to combat the virus, Walters does question the consistency and integrity of the orders.

“How many small businesses have been exposing people to the virus? None,” Walters said. “It is the small businesses that have been able to keep social distancing and mask rules in place, so how are they being forced to completely lock down?”

Walters sent a letter to several politicians and provided examples of the inconsistency he says he has witnessed and how the new rules affect his store. 

“For example, the previous lockdown directive as it stands, up until midnight tonight, basically states that if you wish to enter Costco along with 500 other patrons, to purchase an engagement ring at the jewelry counter, then you may do so,” Walters wrote in the letter. “But if you wish to come into a private office singularly, with one sales person behind an acrylic barrier, sit in a sanitized chair in a sanitized private setting, each wearing masks, eight feet apart, then you will be breaking the law.”

Walters hopes that message gets to the premier before too many more restrictions on small businesses are put in place, but he has “a feeling it won’t.”

Barrie Chamber of Commerce executive director Paul Markle echoed the local jeweler's sentiments, telling BarrieToday he hasn’t heard of any issues with the order itself, but rather the inconsistency of it.

“They made the announcement (Tuesday) and basically said this shutdown, don’t go out unless it's for this and that, but there were no real outlines,” Markle said. “I’m hearing there are more details today, but I’d have preferred leaving the whole thing to today and letting everything out at once. It causes less panic.”

Markle says the panic with the business owners he has spoken to comes from the unknown. 

“A small-business grant was mentioned in the briefing, but again, no details,” he said. “Well, there are tons of businesses counting on knowing about the information.”

The Barrie chamber's membership consists of approximately 900 businesses in a city that has around 7,000 businesses. Markle knows that big box stores like Walmart and Costco are drawing the ire of many people, because those stores have been able to stay fully open.

“I see small businesses taking to social media to air their frustrations, a lot like the owner of Bliss Beneath did about not being able to be open to sell the same items that Walmart can,” said Markle. “So that definitely is a concern for small businesses, and the only thing I try to remember is that there are a lot of people in our community who are working at those big businesses.

“I get they provide jobs for many local residents, but small businesses are just as crucial," he added. 

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman told BarrieToday he expects the new measures to “make an already exhausting and difficult situation even tougher,” but also knows they are needed.  

“The data shows two-thirds of people are already following all the lockdown guidelines. Now we need that other third to do it, too,” said the mayor. “We can stop the spread, and we’re in the final run to the finish line as more people are vaccinated every day. But it looks like we have the toughest stretch to go through before we get there.”

In order to get through this next wave, Lehman tells people to stay connected.  

“Call friends, Zoom with family, stay social, just do it all online and on the phone,” he said. :Don’t go through this alone."

More details are supposed to come today from the province on how enforcement will be handled for those breaking the Stay At Home order.

Lehman says he believes there is a difference between maintaining mental health and flat out breaking rules.

“Yes, people can go for walks in the park and in the neighbourhood, and that’s a good thing to do. Just don’t get together with people when you do," he said. "We’re still reviewing the order, but needless to say, the emergency orders will be enforced.

“We have always taken an education-first approach and I expect that will continue, but I personally have zero tolerance for anyone who’s hosting a party or getting a group together now," Lehman added. "People are dying, and more people will die if we don’t stop the spread”