Canadian kids anxiously awaiting a visit with Santa Claus at their local mall will have to settle for a very different experience this year.
One of Canada’s largest mall operators is cancelling in-person Santa visits amid increasing COVID-19 cases in provinces including Ontario.
Cadillac Fairview Corporation Ltd. said Friday it is suspending physical experiences with Santa in all of its 19 shopping centres, including the Eaton Centre and Fairview Mall in Toronto, and Vancouver’s Pacific Centre.
The company also owns malls in Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and New Brunswick.
“While we know this may be disappointing for families who look forward to this annual tradition, we firmly believe this is the best decision,” Craig Flannagan, Cadillac Fairview’s vice-president of marketing, said in a statement.
Cadillac Fairview had been offering in-person Santa visit reservations as recently as Thursday. It had planned to limit visits with Santa to nine people at a time for a maximum of five minutes and roll out a mandatory mask policy and sanitizations between guests.
Cadillac Fairview will instead offer Santa storytime sessions in French and English on Facebook for families and will allow people to book one-on-one video chats with the jolly man from the North Pole.
The switch, which will not result in any job losses, came after extensive conversations with government officials and consumers, said Flannagan.
“Similar to what we’ve seen with other important events like weddings and birthday parties, we believe this temporary shift to online is the responsible thing to do in a very different year,” he said.
The same day as Cadillac Fairview revisited its plans, Ontario reported 1,396 new cases of COVID-19 and linked 17 new deaths in the province to the virus.
Several provinces have experienced dramatic growth in COVID-19 case numbers in recent weeks. Some are under new restrictions — at least in certain regions — as authorities scramble to control the spread of the disease.
Cadillac Fairview has already implemented physical distancing and traffic flow measures, requested that staff wear personal protective equipment and has increased cleaning of surfaces that are touched frequently.
Other mall operators told CBC News in statements they are still weighing their options when it comes to Santa visits.
Ivanhoé Cambridge, operator of Tsawwassen Mills and Burnaby’s Metrotown, said it is “monitoring the situation” in British Columbia and has not yet decided on a course of action for its malls in that province.
Morguard, which owns Coquitlam Centre and Sevenoaks Shopping Centre in Abbotsford, B.C., said it would have an update “in coming days.”