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GTA malls entering grey zone use staff at doors, tech to track capacity


TORONTO — Greater Toronto Area malls are using capacity tracking technology and staff stationed at doors to abide by COVID-19 rules that went into effect in parts of the region Monday. 

Under provincial regulations, non-essential stores and malls in Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region are allowed to open, but are required to keep capacity at 25 per cent or below.

To follow the regulations, Oxford Properties has staff at designated entrances at its Yorkdale, Square One and Scarborough Town Centre malls to stop people from entering when capacity has been reached.

The property manager said some individual retailers also have store capacity limits and are using line management systems to minimize wait times by allowing shoppers to receive text notifications when they can enter. 

Oxford is also managing capacity before people even arrive at its properties by hosting online trackers to show how full malls are. The trackers tell shoppers how close malls are to reaching their maximum capacity and whether guests should expect to wait to enter once they arrive.

Just before noon on Monday, for example, Yorkdale's website showed it was at 32 per cent of restricted capacity, while Square One was at roughly 36 per cent and Scarborough Town Centre was hovering above 40 per cent. 

Cadillac Fairview Corp. Ltd. shopping centres also unveiled capacity trackers on websites for its properties, including Eaton Centre and Fairview Mall.

The trackers don't report how full malls were, but offer real-time ratings that show whether the mall is "not too busy, "moderately busy" or "busy."

Lineups are typical in the moderately busy level, while the busy stage could see mall access restricted, Cadillac Fairview said.

Both Fairview and Eaton Centre were in the "not too busy" stage around noon Monday.

Cadillac Fairview said restaurants and food establishments will continue to operate exclusively through takeout and delivery at its locations.

The operator is also limiting the number of entrances visitors can use and positioning staff at those doors to control how many people enter.

Like Oxford, it was warning guests that they will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and recent travel as they enter the mall.

Shoppers wanting to expedite the process were encouraged to use an online screening questionnaire set up by the province that asks people about whether they are feeling ill, have received a COVID Alert app notification recently or have come into contact with people experiencing symptoms of the virus.

Those who fill out the survey and don't report any symptoms or risks are given a screening result document that reads "you can go." 

The document is valid for 12 hours if someone does not develop symptoms or risks sooner and can be flashed at mall entrances for quicker access.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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