Niagara’s top public health official says he is imposing new COVID-19 fighting measures on area restaurants and bars in the hope of avoiding more provincially ordered restrictions that could create more economic damage.
During a Thursday video news conference with local reporters, Dr. Mustafa Hirji said he has issued orders with the powers granted him under Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act requiring eatery owners to collect more information about patrons.
The order, issued under Section 22 of the act which gives a medical officer of health the authority to take action to limit the spread of a communicable disease, requires restaurant staff to collect contact information from patrons as well getting confirmation that “that you are dining only with your household or persons essential to maintaining physical and mental health,” as part of an effort to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Hirji said there have been 14 “outbreak-like” incidents in Niagara restaurants and bars since Oct. 1. During these incidents, the virus spread among people — typically people in their 20s — seated at the same table or otherwise in close contact with each other.
Hirji said the order is not intended as punishment for businesses, who he said are largely doing what they are supposed to. However, his powers under the act do not grant him the powers to target individuals, so putting in measures to change how people behave is the best option.
The order limits a maximum of six people per table even if they are from the same household, Hirji said. For someone who is an “essential contact,” a person can dine with no more than two people.
The order defines an essential contact as people such as “as caregivers or social supports to someone who lives alone.”
During the press briefing, Hirji used the example of an elderly person who lives alone but relies on a son or daughter for support, which is out of household contact that “you cannot stop.”