Public health officials have indicated that it is necessary to strengthen the restrictions placed upon the province of Ontario in order to contain the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The GNCC believes that expert advice should be heeded to safeguard public health and avoid the consequences of an out-of-control pandemic, which will not only result in loss of life, but a far deeper economic recession.
Timing of announcements
The GNCC notes that, once again, these measures are being imposed with virtually no notice, with imposition following announcement by a matter of hours. Sudden restrictions pose significant costs to businesses and should be avoided wherever possible, especially when public health officials have been warning that such measures will be necessary for weeks.
Need for further support
Statistics Canada data indicate that more than half of businesses do not know how long they could continue to operate at their current level of revenue and expenditures before considering closure or bankruptcy. More than 20% reported they would have to lay off staff within a year.
One-quarter of businesses in accommodation and food services will close within a year at their current level of revenue and expenditures. Over half of businesses in this sector do not have the ability to take on more debt.
These data were gathered before the new lockdown/stay-at-home orders were announced, which will only make these statistics worse. Even with the recent announcement of the extended small business grant program, more support will be needed to avoid closures and job losses.
While the government has placed restrictions upon businesses, appointed officers to inspect them and ensure that orders are being followed, and made the penalties for non-compliance clear, the enforcement of stay-at-home orders and the penalties for individual violations are open to question. The GNCC believes that the individual behaviours which contribute to the spread of SARS-CoV-2, such as unnecessary travel and multi-household gatherings, should be restricted, enforced, and penalized as least as much as business activities.
Testing and tracing
Now as before, one of the reasons why the virus is spreading so fast and why severe, blanket measures are therefore necessary is insufficient testing and tracing capacity, and consequently insufficient data on the sources of community spread. The GNCC urges governments to allocate more resources to tracing and testing which will allow us to isolate outbreaks before they become too large.
The only permanent end to lockdowns and restrictions will come with mass vaccination. Only 11.4% of Ontarians have received at least one dose, and only 2.2% are fully vaccinated. The United States has already fully vaccinated almost one in five of its people, the UK almost one in ten, and France, Germany, and Italy have all achieved rates more than double that of Canada’s. Greater urgency and more resources are clearly needed for our vaccination programs.
We ask that decisions on who is vaccinated, and when, should be purely science-based. Vaccination policies should be continuously reviewed by experts to assure their efficacy and adjusted as needed. We also ask the public sector to leverage the expertise, capacities and resources of businesses to support vaccination distribution, and improved testing and tracing capacities.
The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce is the largest business organization in Niagara and the second-largest Chamber of Commerce in Ontario, with 1,500 members representing 50,000 employees. More information on the GNCC is available at gncc.ca.
Mishka Balsom, CEO of GNCC
Mishka@gncc.ca or 905-684-2361