‘A tiny step’: Calgary businesses react to Alberta easing COVID-19 restrictions

Alberta has entered Stage 2 of its reopening plan, and businesses and other stakeholders alike are combing through the newly-eased COVID-19 restrictions to understand the potential impacts.

Since Monday, banquet halls, community halls and conference centres were allowed to be open to host virtual meetings, conferences and events, including wedding ceremonies with up to 10 people in attendance. Funeral services are also allowed to increase capacity to up to 20 people.

Wedding receptions, funeral receptions and trade shows are still not permitted under the latest round of eased restrictions.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s a tiny step,” Lino Savino, the general manager of the Carriage House Hotel and Conference Centre in Calgary, said Tuesday.

“It’s hard to open our doors for just 10 people. It’s almost even harder to charge for an event for just 10 people as it costs a lot of money for us to open up.”

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The ballroom at the hotel can fit upwards of 400 people for an event and was hosting events of 50 people as recently as last July.

Savino said he is keeping an eye on the later stages of reopening and remains optimistic restrictions will be eased to allow for larger events.

“What we’re hoping for is a larger lessening of the restrictions, and a gradual step forward to normalcy,” Savino said.

“Fifty, 100, 200 people, in this space, we could do everything safely with social distancing.”

Meanwhile, the staff at Sunalta Community Hall in Calgary spent Tuesday trying to determine what activities are allowed under the latest stage of reopening.

“We should be up and running by (Wednesday) and can let folks know when they’d be allowed to use the space, depending on which activity they’re looking to host,” said Sunalta Community Association executive director Jenny Balderston.

“We recognize that it’s not a full reopen of community halls, but rather further easing of existing restrictions.”

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Despite health restrictions, the community hall still holds virtual programs as well as providing supports and services. There have been 427 pf what the community association calls COVID-safe activities held at the community hall over the last year.

“We continue to be there and support our members, we just have had to adapt and innovate and find safe ways to do it during this difficult time,” Balderston said.

Pandemic health restrictions continue to have an impact on Calgary’s arts community, despite a gradual easing of restrictions on Monday.

Performers are allowed to rehearse for filmed events or livestreams as long as three metres of distance is maintained between people and masks are worn.

Live audiences are still prohibited and only 10 people can participate at a time.

The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra said it is now allowed to rehearse on stage at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, something that has been prohibited since COVID-19 cases spiked late last year.

However, with the limited number of participants allowed, the complete orchestra can’t practise together.

“We are already trying to rethink our strategy,” said Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra CEO Paul Dornian. “We can use a few more musicians, but we’re still a long way from having the full Calgary Philharmonic on stage, which we all miss tremendously.

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“When can we get back to playing with a full orchestra and a live audience? …Really, it’s anybody’s guess.”

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The orchestra said it has had to get creative over the past year of closures, performing on livestreams and other video platforms.

The CPO is announcing a new virtual series which features solos or duets performed at some popular Calgary landmarks, including the top floor of the Bow Building.

We started livestreaming as a project about four or five years ago and it’s really grown,” Dornian said. “We see it is an ongoing part of our repertoire now.

“COVID(-19) has exaggerated that, but it didn’t knock us off course.”

There is a sense of optimism in the city’s arts community, even though it was among the first sectors to be impacted by COVID-19 health measures and it’s expected to be one of the last to see restrictions eased.

Patti Pon at Calgary Arts Development is looking at the latest round of eased restrictions as a positive step forward.

She said the pandemic has underscored Calgary’s dependence on the arts community, with the resounding success of the live outdoor concerts outside Telus Spark, the hotel balcony concerts at the Ramada last summer and the recent outdoor installation-based series Chinook Blast.

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“We want to be sure that we can continue to have those moments, because clearly, there’s a desire on the part of Calgarians to want to make it happen,” Pon said.

“I look forward to a greater opening of the restrictions that will allow artists to continue to offer exceptional experiences, both online and in real life — while we make our way through these steps.”

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