Manitoba business owners, residents brace for 3rd lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic

Manitobans are feeling the weight of stricter COVID-19 restrictions announced Friday evening, as business owners, health-care workers and citizens brace for another lockdown.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, detailed over a dozen new public health restrictions Friday that aim to stop gatherings. They come into effect Sunday and will last three weeks.

Among those rules is the closure of dine-in service for restaurants, bars and patios.

“The only thought that really comes to my mind is just decimation,” said Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant Foodservices Association, an industry advocate.

“We’ve been living on very little for so long.”

Restaurant owners he’s spoken to said they wouldn’t survive another lockdown, so Jeffrey said he expects many to close if these restrictions are in place for long.

The Pad Thai Restaurant in Winnipeg’s West End has served the community for 20 years, and owner Claire Venevongsa isn’t going to let that stop happening if she can help it.

Restaurant industry advocate Shaun Jeffrey said he expects many eateries to close if Manitoba’s new pandemic restrictions are in place for long. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The restaurant hasn’t served a dine-in customer since October due to COVID-19, instead relying on sales from takeout and delivery. Rent increased while sales dropped. The restaurant is short-staffed and Venevongsa has extended its operations to seven days a week to keep it going.

“It’s really hard,” she said. “There’s no such thing as family time.”

Meanwhile, in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, Alphonso Maury is saddened by the new restaurant restrictions.

Restaurant owners plan for their summer rush, from getting a patio permit to hiring more staff — and employees then expect to have work, the owner of Corrientes Argentine Pizzeria said.

“Suddenly you have to tell them, ‘OK guys, go home. We will not need you no matter what,'” said Maury. “That’s why we’re disappointed.”

But both Venevongsa and Maury said they appreciate that the new rules are being introduced to protect people from COVID-19.

Restrictions aim to limit gatherings

New restrictions were already announced last week to try to prevent a full lockdown in Manitoba.

But with rising cases and a sudden strain on the health-care system, public health couldn’t wait to see how those restrictions impacted the spread of COVID-19, Roussin said.

The rules announced Friday will also shut down businesses including gyms and museums and bar activities such as indoor sports and church services. Retail capacity and gathering sizes were also cut down.

Many health experts have been calling for tighter restrictions to prevent a significant third wave, such as those in Ontario and Alberta.

The surge of COVID-19 that Manitoba is experiencing was preventable, said Dr. Anand Kumar, a Winnipeg intensive care physician and infectious disease specialist.

Manitoba’s current predicament was entirely preventable and was caused by leadership, said Dr. Anand Kumar. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

“You could see this coming months ago,” said Kumar, prior to the new restrictions being released. “The government has chosen a strategy to only intervene when it looks like ICU and hospital capacity are being threatened.

“But what that means is that you will invariably threaten the ICU capacity because you let it go until that happens. It’s an insane way to do things.”

While acknowledging that Manitobans are feeling fatigued after dealing with the pandemic for nearly 14 months, Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew tried rallying Manitobans to continue following public health orders Friday evening.

“This is a challenge we will look back on in future generations,” said Kinew during a Facebook live stream.

Kinew called on the Manitoba government to release its data to show modelling projections and where transmission is occurring, as it may help residents better understand why decisions are being made.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew blamed the upcoming lockdown on inaction by the Progressive Conservative government. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Adriano Augellone, an electrical engineering student who was at the Beer Can patio in Winnipeg on Friday, is frustrated about the restrictions because they seem like a punishment to those following the rules.

“One week you’re happy because we’re maybe going to open up restrictions and then obviously we have to anticipate that there’s going to be more cases. Then cases rise and people are having anti-masker rallies … and then we have to pay for it,” Augellone said.

Gym owner ‘defeated’ by new rules

Michelle Braithwaite was driving when her phone “blew up” Friday evening, after Roussin announced changes that meant her Fit Club gym will have to shut down for the third time.

“I was really sad and just almost felt defeated,” said Braithwaite. “Everybody’s emotions are all over the place right now.”

Braithwaite said her job now is to figure out a game plan to survive this third wave, just like her gym survived the previous two.

“We’ve been through it and we just have to remain positive and do what we’re told,” she said.

Michelle Braithwaite, manager of a Fit Club gym in Winnipeg, will be coming up with a plan to keep the business afloat during lockdown for a third time. (Karen Pauls/CBC)

The gym Augellone visits is also closing, and it’s making him wonder about where transmission is occurring.

“My gym has had zero cases since we’ve been locking down and opening up. [But] we have to close because that’s where COVID is happening?” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”