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Retailers: COVID-19 Closures and Reductions in Operations

As the number of government and public health directives regarding COVID-19 increase, retailers are facing difficult decisions, including whether they are obligated to close their stores or to reduce their operations.

As a general rule, retailers should follow any government or public health directives that are applicable to them.  As of the time of this post, there has been no specific directive to close retail outlets, but many retailers have proactively closed or reduced their operations in line with directives to minimize gatherings.  Retailers which have on-site restaurant or food services (such as a coffee shop) should ensure that they are complying with directives restricting dine-in services.

Retailers that are proximate to or which rely on traffic related to adjacent facilities which are required to be closed may be inclined to close or reduce operations.  In order to promote social distancing, some retailers have been enforcing a limit on the number of people allowed to be in a store at a time.

Many retailers may also be limited by the policies or directives that are placed on their landlords.  For example, the required closure of a mall or plaza will require a retailer to close its operations. 

The following directives may influence a retailer’s decision as to whether to close or reduce operations:

British Columbia: On March 16, 2020 the Province of British Columbia put a ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people, which includes indoor and outdoor sporting events, conferences, meetings, religious gatherings and other similar events.

Alberta: The Province of Alberta has not mandated any closures, but recommends that gatherings of more than 250 people be cancelled. On March 16, 2020, the City of Calgary declared a state of emergency. While this resulted in the closure of many city run buildings and organizations, the following places remain exempt from the restrictions: grocery stores, public transit, airports, shopping centres, pharmacies, big-box commercial retail, office buildings, shelters and care centres.

Saskatchewan: On March 16, 2020, a government order was effected prohibiting public gatherings of more than 250 people, and events of more than 50 where a speaker or attendee has recent international travel.

Manitoba: As of March 17, 2020, the Manitoba Government is recommending the cancellation of gatherings of more than 50 people and has mandated the immediate closure of casinos.

Ontario: On March 17, 2020 the Ontario Government declared a state of emergency. The declaration mandates the closure of:

  • All facilities providing indoor recreational programs;
  • All public libraries;
  • All private schools as defined in the Education Act;
  • All licensed child care centres;
  • All bars and restaurants, except to the extent that such facilities provide takeout food and delivery;
  • All theatres including those offering live performances of music, dance, and other art forms, as well as cinemas that show movies; and
  • Concert venues.

The declaration also prohibits public events with over 50 people. These measures will remain in place until at least March 31, 2020, unless there is an early termination of the order. Restaurants and bars are not being ordered to close at this time, but may only serve customers through take-out and delivery services.

Quebec: On March 16, 2020, the Quebec Government mandated several closures. This includes the closing of several businesses and public spaces in the cultural and tourist sectors, and the prohibition of indoor gatherings of more than 50 people. The following are closed until March 30, 2020:

  • aquariums;
  • skating rinks;
  • bars and discotheques;
  • libraries;
  • sugar shacks;
  • training gyms, dance halls and spinning, zumba and yoga centres;
  • indoor soccer arenas;
  • outdoor recreation centres;
  • cinemas and games arcades;
  • sample counters and booths in grocery and department stores;
  • recreational sites (ski resorts, amusement parks, trampoline centres, etc.);
  • museums;
  • water parks;
  • swimming pools, spas and saunas;
  • restaurants offering buffet service;
  • performance spaces;
  • theatres;
  • zoos;
  • all other similar facilities.

New Brunswick: On March 17, 2020, the government of New Brunswick mandated the closure of:

  • museums
  • theatres
  • performance spaces
  • swimming pools, spas, saunas and water parks
  • recreational sites such as ski resorts, amusement parks, trampoline centres, etc.
  • cinemas and arcades
  • training centres and dance, spinning, zumba and yoga centres
  • arenas
  • indoor soccer centres
  • zoos
  • aquariums
  • bars
  • restaurants that offer buffets
  • sugar bush operations open to the public

Nova Scotia: The Nova Scotia Government has issued the following directive: “Organizations and businesses are required to practise social distancing of two metres (6 feet) and keep gatherings below 150 or much smaller, if possible. This applies to restaurants, bars, movie theatres, and other gathering spots.” Casinos are required to be closed.

This update is part of our continuing efforts to keep you informed about the COVID-19. Watch our COVID-19 Hub, our Consumer Markets Perspectives blog and our McCarthy Tétrault Employer Advisor blog for further updates, including in-depth analysis of emergency legislation in Ontario, federally, and in other jurisdictions.

Retailers may wish to review our recent post regarding Toronto’s exercise of a by-law exemption to permit 24/7 inventory deliveries in response to COVID-19. 

If you need assistance, please reach out to any member of our National Labour & Employment Team.



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