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Vancouver restaurateur vows to defy COVID-19 ban on indoor dining

The owner of a Vancouver Italian restaurant is vowing to defy the province’s COVID-19 order banning indoor dining.

“I think this order is totally unfair and it discriminates against our business,” Federico Fuoco, who operates Gusto restaurant in the Olympic Village, said.

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“I mean, if (provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry) did a blanket policy that covered Costco, liquor stores, Wal-Mart, then even if I was not in favour of it, at least that’s a fair policy.”

Read more:
COVID: Sweeping new restrictions in place including in-person dining at B.C. bars and restaurants

On Monday, the province ordered restaurants and pubs to cease indoor service as a part of a three-week “circuit breaker” meant to curb surging new cases, and amid growing concern about the spread of COVID variants of concern.

On Wednesday, the province recorded more than 1,000 new cases for the first time ever, pushing it over the milestone of 100,000 total cases since the start of the pandemic.

Click to play video: Setback for restaurants as B.C. suspends indoor dining

Fuoco claimed Friday that Henry’s order was not based on science, and was implemented with no warning or consultation — leaving restaurants with thousands of dollars in product they couldn’t sell.

“Look, these are people that have risked their savings. They’ve gone, they probably had loans to go into business,” he said.

Read more:
Indoor wine tastings still permitted amid new B.C. COVID-19 restrictions

“Someone has to take a stand. If people have to wake up and say enough is enough, this doesn’t make sense.”

Fuoco said he’d already cut his capacity from 40 down to 10, and was facing a variety of additional costs due to the pandemic.

His other restaurant, Federico’s Supper Club, closed last April after more than 20 years on Commercial Drive.

Restaurants Canada estimates more than 10,000 restaurants have already closed since the start of the pandemic.

In announcing the new restrictions Monday, Henry said most restaurants had been “doing a really good job,” but that she had been hearing growing concerns in recent weeks about social gatherings.

Click to play video: B.C. officials announce new ‘circuit breaker’ restrictions to curb  spread of COVID-19 transmission

“There’s a lot of frustration, especially among younger people, about the restrictions and the restrictions on social connections. And with March break and universities being out of session for a while, we’re seeing that lead to augmentation of transmission through places like restaurants and bars and clubs,” she said.

“Right now, indoor settings is where we’re seeing it, most transmission, happening.”

Fuoco said his restaurant would be closed for the Easter holiday, but otherwise would remain open as normal and was taking all the necessary COVID-19 precautions, including reduced capacity, physical distancing, masks and sanitization.

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He said he couldn’t comment on possible repercussions for legal reasons, but that he had sought legal counsel.

Under B.C.’s provincial health regulations, Fuoco could be subject to a $2,300 fine each day his restaurant remains in operation along with possible charges for repeat infractions.

“If violation tickets do not act as a deterrent, or in cases of particularly egregious contraventions or for repeat offenders, police can recommend changes in relation to the offence,” according to the province.

“On conviction, judicial penalties of up to $10,000 and/or one year in prison may be imposed.”

Gusto’s defiance came as more than 100 people — most without masks — gathered at Vancouver City Hall to protest COVID-19 restrictions at a “save small business” rally.

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