Kids back at practice as in-person dining and gyms open in Alberta on Monday

Alberta restaurants will be allowed to open for in-person dining again on Feb. 8 as part of the province’s plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions.

Read more: Alberta Health reports 351 new COVID-19 cases, 4 more deaths on Sunday

Restaurants have been closed to in-person dining since mid-December as part of efforts to help curb the spread of the virus. The same restrictions that were in place back then, including 50 per cent capacity, still apply.

‘Hanging on by a thread’

Many restaurants have been operating at a loss since then.

“A lot of restaurants are just hanging on by a thread, and we are not excluded from that. It’s tough,” said James Martin, general manager of Home and Away sports bar in Calgary.

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“We are excited to have people back in the space just enjoying themselves and bringing back that sense of community.”

Read more: Owners of independent Edmonton restaurants push for ‘COVID-zero’ plan

At Rain Dog Bar in Inglewood, owner Bill Bonar is excited to get back to work but is a little nervous as he heads into the unknown.

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“I’m not sure what to expect. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I thought I knew what to expect but I have no idea now. My feeling is that people are eager to get back out. I think it’s been a grind on everyone,” Bonar said.

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Martin said he’s most excited for his staff. Only about a quarter of them will come back for now.

“I know it’s tough sitting at home making no money. It’s tough not only on your pocketbook but on your mental health. Our staff is really looking forward to being back and being together again,” Martin said.

“It’s obviously tough to plan. It helps that we’ve been through this once before.”

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‘Cautious way to proceed’

Also on Monday, gyms will be opening for one-on-one training, and people 18 and under will be able to take part in sports practices in groups of 10 — but no games.

Dr. Chris Mody, who is the head of the University of Calgary’s department of microbiology, immunology and infectious disease, said reopening sports for young people can be done safely, although the B.1.1.7 variant remains the biggest unknown.

“There’s a potential for spread amongst different cohorts if games occur whereas practice sessions are confined pretty much to the same group, and so consequently, that’s another cautious way to proceed,” said Mody on Sunday.

Read more: Alberta government adds minor sports training, gymnastics and dance to Monday’s COVID-19 reopening

The next challenge will be finding a place to play, as sports organizations around the province scramble to secure ice or indoor field time.

“We’ve had a brilliant relationship with the Calgary Soccer Centre. The people over there that run the place are incredible, and they bend over backwards for us and all the other teams that participate there, so we need an understanding of when we can book and when those facilities open up and when the staffing is in place,” said Geoff Snider, founder of ELEV8 Lacrosse on Sunday.

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As of Sunday afternoon, the regional manager for City of Calgary Recreation said they hadn’t moved on opening city facilities because they “haven’t seen an official order from the province yet.”

Jarret Hoebers said his department had received several inquires from stakeholders regarding when city-run facilities would be opening.

Hoebers said Calgary Recreation has reduced its staffing by 90 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

Read more: 1,200 City of Calgary employees face temporary layoffs amid COVID-19 pandemic

Kevin Kobelka, the executive director of Hockey Calgary, said on Sunday that the organization is trying to secure ice time, and predicts there will not be any official programs until next weekend but “this could change by the minute.”

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