Photo by Whitehorse Star
Chamber President Peter Turner
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Chamber President Peter Turner
The Yukon’s restaurants and personal service businesses are struggling to plan for reopening because the territorial government’s plan lacks a clear timeline, according to the Yukon Chamber of Commerce.
“We are headed in the right direction and we applaud the government for getting the ball rolling on this, but what we’re concerned about, essentially, is the lack of detail,” chamber president Peter Turner said this morning.
“Particularly for the sorts of businesses that are going to require some time to get the government to review their plans for reopening.”
Last Friday, as outlined in Tuesday’s Star, the government launched phase one of a four-phase COVID-19 reopening plan.
It requires that all businesses mandated to close, including restaurants and personal services, provide an operational plan for inspection and approval from the government.
Those operating restaurants and personal services were told they should expect the green light to reopen some time in the coming weeks.
That timeline, however, is too vague for many of these business operators, who require time to staff their businesses and stock their kitchens.
“When the restaurant reopens, it has to order food, line up staff, plan the menus,” Turner told the Star.
He said he has heard the process of restocking kitchens with food could take one to two weeks, or longer for restaurants in rural areas.
Restaurateurs are wary of starting the restocking process before they know their operational plan will be approved and they’ll be permitted to reopen on a certain date.
“So, there’s a ton of uncertainty in the business community, particularly for businesses that are going through an inspection process,” Turner said.
He suggested that the process of approving the operational plans and conducting inspections could be lengthy. If five restaurants are inspected per day, it would still take 20 days to approve the Yukon’s approximately 100 restaurants.
“I don’t know how many bodies the government has to inspect the restaurants,” Turner said.
“That’s what we really need to jump on, because obviously for any business, when you shut down for a period of time, days can be like weeks.
“If you’ve got one more week of uncertainty, it can be the difference between a business failing and being able to restart.”
Another problem is the revenue drain that will ensue from limiting the number of diners in a restaurant at one time to permit social distancing.
For personal services, staffing is the primary concern, though there is also uncertainty regarding what level of safety precautions will be mandated.
In other parts of Canada, hairdressers have installed plexiglass partitions between themselves and their customers and are cutting hair through the glass.
If hairdressers in the Yukon are required to install a similar set-up, Turner said, it would take time to do that and then learn how to work around it.
There’s very little guidance at the moment regarding this, though the government has promised more guidelines will be released to business owners this week.
In the meantime, many business operators feel they’re in the dark about what they will be required to implement before opening.
“The devil is in the detail and the problem is, there’s no detail,” Turner said.
The chamber has been working to gather information from business owners and funnel that information through the business advisory council the government established early in the pandemic.
Turner said some discussions are already happening between restaurant owners about providing the government with a recommendation to improve the plan.
This might look like creating a clear template of steps for reopening, with a guaranteed timeline, then getting early approvals to open before the inspection to make the process more timely.
Enabling restaurants to open while awaiting a government inspection could stop the delays that many business owners are worried about.
“No restaurateur wants their customers or employees to be unsafe; nobody is trying to take shortcuts here,” Turner said.
“What they’re concerned about is getting the approvals done on a timely basis and, to cut the government some slack, we’re all in uncharted territory here.”
Another piece of the puzzle for businesses is sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.
Turner noted that sourcing PPE is challenging right now, as the global pandemic has resulted in a nearly world-wide shortage.
He noted that Yukoners are starting to source supplies, with Yukon Brewing producing hand sanitizer, and local corporations tapping into the supply chain for masks and gloves.
The chamber has worked with Northern Vision Development Corp. to source 5,000 masks for the rural business community. Turner said the masks will be distributed through the six community chambers of commerce.
“We’re going to be essentially passing them through at cost to any businesses that are interested,” Turner said.
“(PPE) is a need that unfortunately we’re all going to have to satisfy through the summer, if not beyond.”
The chamber is engaging with as many businesses as possible during this time to provide the business advisory council with feedback as the territory reopens.
“We have a 90-day free membership on our website with any business that wants to engage with us,” Turner said.
“We operate from the greatest amount of input from the whole Yukon business community.”
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