Frustration tempered by acceptance, as Manitobans prepare to endure extended code red restrictions

Manitoba’s red level COVID-19 restrictions were supposed to be a sort of circuit breaker, only lasting two to four weeks — but the partial lockdown has now reached eight weeks and counting.

On Friday, the Manitoba government extended the red level restrictions for at least two more weeks. The only change made allows Winnipeg-based professional hockey teams to train and play, and exempts the players from having to self-isolate after travel.

“It’s very upsetting,” said Devin Huth, a hair stylist at Hair Technique on Tyndall Avenue who’s eager to come off employment insurance and get back to work.

“I’ve been getting a lot of messages on Facebook and Instagram about reopening, but unfortunately we can’t so I know there’s a lot frustration with my clients as well.”

Huth wasn’t expecting to be allowed to open because COVID-19 numbers are still high, and she assumed public health officials might want to wait and see the potential consequences of the holiday season, she said.

But as code red has continued, Huth has received more and more messages about whether the salon will reopen, especially the past few weeks, she said, adding that most clients understand why she cannot do their hair right now.

It’s getting to the point that Huth is able to recognize hair that needs cutting, roots, and home-done-haircuts while she’s out around town.

Whenever she sees a haircut clearly done at home, Devin Huth wishes she could go up behind the person and snip their hair on the spot. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

“It’s so obvious,” she said about the latter. “It’s super cute, though, because I know people are getting frustrated that [hair salons are] not open … so they opt to do it themselves.”

Meanwhile, Sarbjeet Kainth, owner of Hair Technique on Tyndall and a spa nearby, is getting by on government grants and rent assistance — and is willing to keep her businesses closed a bit longer for the greater good.

“If we can survive for two months, then two weeks is not bad … and if that can save a lot of lives, then we can stay closed,” Kainth said.

“It’s hard as a business owner. A lot of clients are messaging, calling, so it’s tough. But we’re taking it.”

Kainth anticipates that her phone and Facebook will be “crazy” the moment her businesses can reopen. After the first lockdown last spring, it was hard to keep up with the demand, Kainth said, and she likely wouldn’t have been able to get through it without her staff.

Sarbjeet Kainth says she’ll often think about how her clients are doing, or what they might be doing, throughout parts of the day. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

That said, reopening will be a happy day. Even now, Kainth will think about her clients to help get her through days, she said.

Over in St. James, Mohamed Barafi, owner of Les Saj Restaurant, is in the kitchen helping with the lunch rush — which tends to be slightly busier on Fridays, he said.

Pre-pandemic, the Middle Eastern restaurant offered a mix of dine-in and take out service. The dining area held about 45 chairs with eight tables, said Barafi.

But for the past 10 months, Les Saj Restaurant has survived solely on takeout and delivery. Business is down about 30 per cent from a year ago, he says.

Barafi hopes the restaurant can reopen further, but he can wait another two weeks.

“This is restrictions from the health department, so we need to follow it,” he said. “I believe they’re making the decision to protect everyone in the [province], so we have to go with it.”

Barafi says he’s thankful for the customers who have kept him in business through the pandemic. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Other Manitobans who spoke with CBC News are also for the extension, assuming it prevents a similar partial lockdown in the future.

“It is hard. But what are you going to do? It’s the time that you live in,” said Maria Cabal, who works in health care.

“The sooner we get back to normal, the better … and it’s for the well-being of everybody.”

Mikhayla Gruenke, on the other hand, believes the provincial government needs to change tactics, as many small businesses are hemorrhaging.

“Everyone’s going to Superstore and Costco. What about small businesses?” she said. “They’re dying — and those are our friends, our family.”

Chineavanh Phosaysana also doesn’t like the lockdown because it means she’s limited in what she can do with her eight-year-old daughter

“We’ve been mostly at home doing pretty much nothing,” she said, adding that her daughter can’t even see her friends because of remote learning.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, announced Friday that so far there have been 355 new cases of COVID-19 linked to holiday gatherings — and those cases have nearly 1,900 close contacts combined.

Phosaysana has only seen the family she lives at home with, and has only interacted with her friends via FaceTime, so she doesn’t know where the province should go from here.