Another round of bridge grants is being made available to businesses and organizations impacted by COVID-19 and the latest restrictions that have shut down or severely curtailed many operations.
This is the fourth round of payments worth up to $5,000 to help small and medium-sized businesses, not-for-profits, charities and home-based businesses, as the third wave of the pandemic sweeps through the province.
“We rely on our small businesses and they rely on us,” said Premier Brian Pallister while announcing the funding on Monday.
The total financial support available in the fourth round is $71 million. That brings the total of the four rounds so far to $286 million.
Eligible businesses that received prior bridge grant payments will automatically receive a fourth payment of up to $5,000 beginning as early as Friday and will be notified of the deposit via email, the province said in a news release.
Pallister also announced a $2,000 top-up for restaurants in addition to the $5,000 bridge grant to help cover the costs of food waste, employee wages, maintenance and insurance.
Approximately 1,800 restaurants will qualify for the top-up, which the province expects to total about $3.6 million.
“We recognize that the announcement we made in terms of additional restrictions, in particular the announcement late last week, was done out of a sense of urgency without a lot of advance notice being able to be given to some businesses,” Pallister said.
“I’m not going to apologize. We had to act. We chose to act. We believe we did the right thing.”
That said, he acknowledged the restaurant industry was caught particularly off guard, especially as it prepared to host Mother’s Day diners.
“That additional $2,000 is our way of saying thank you to the restaurants for the important services they offer,” Pallister said.
An additional $2 million is also being provided to the dine-in restaurant relief program to help restaurants shift their operations toward a delivery model.
A rebate will help offset costs related to delivery services, whether a restaurant provides its own delivery service or uses a third-party delivery company.
The program, administered by the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce in partnership with the Manitoba Restaurant & Foodservices Association, was first launched in January 2021.
Shops shut, schools closed
Last week, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, detailed over a dozen new public health restrictions as staggeringly high COVID-19 cases have reached a level not seen since the peak of the second wave.
The new orders came into effect Sunday and will last three weeks, until May 30.
Gyms, museums, casinos, fitness centres, galleries, libraries and day camps are among those forced to shut down.
Restaurants, bars and patios in Manitoba have closed to in-person dining.
Indoor religious, cultural and community gatherings are also no longer allowed, while outdoor gatherings in public areas involving people from more than one household will be limited to a maximum of five people.
Visits to private residences — whether indoors or outdoors — are prohibited.
Roussin followed up Friday’s announcement with another on Sunday, where he and Education Minister Cliff Cullen said all kindergarten to Grade 12 schools in Winnipeg and Brandon will switch to remote learning starting Wednesday.
The order will remain in place until May 30.
Schools in other parts of Manitoba will stay open for now but will make the shift to remote learning if they have more than one COVID-19 case, unless they involve people from the same household.
If needed, the province may also look at closing schools in other regions, but for now the focus is on where most of the cases are appearing, Roussin said, noting three-quarters of the schools affected by cases are in the province’s two largest cities.
Asked on Monday what type of supports will be extended to parents who cannot go to their jobs because their kids are home from school, Pallister said there’s a wide array of programs that can cover that.
He is not aware of any program — in any province or federally — designed specifically for parents in that scenario.
Asked multiple times if he regrets not implementing tougher restrictions weeks ago, when many people could see the current situation coming as COVID-19 numbers were steadily rising, Pallister repeated that Manitoba “maintained some of the toughest restrictions in Canada.”
“To suggest that we should shut down our economy when we have 100 [new daily] cases is to suggest the only way to avoid a lockdown, is to have a lockdown,” he said. “And that isn’t right. I don’t buy that logic.
“What about the 100,000 people you put out of work when you do that. What about the mental health and well-being of families and individuals across the province?”
Pallister was also asked what the odds are that the latest restriction could actually be relaxed by the start of June — if people should be prepared that kids won’t return to school again this year and that businesses will stay closed for much longer?
It took nearly three months for the orders to begin to subside during the second wave.
That was a different time, and we’re different people now, Pallister said.
“The future’s in our hands. We’re not powerless in this,” he said.
“Follow the health orders, get vaccinated. We can shorten this third wave.”
‘Tough weeks ahead of us’
Pallister urged Manitobans to get vaccinated, saying “we have a few tough weeks ahead of us.”
“Right now, we’re in a race between variants and vaccines and you can do your part to help us win that race by getting your vaccine as soon as possible,” he said.
The province on Monday dropped the eligibility age for immunizations at a super site or pop-up clinic to include individuals aged 30 or older and Indigenous people aged 18 and older.
In addition, all adults aged 18 and older who live or work in specified jobs in priority communities continue to be eligible to make an appointment. Maps and other information about community-based eligibility are available on the province’s website.
Officials with Manitoba’s vaccine task force said last week they hope to have all Manitobans 12 and up able to book a first dose appointment by May 21. Health Canada approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adolescents 12-15 on May 5.
It was previously only approved for those 16 and up.
Manitoba is still reviewing the decision but officials say the province intends to offer vaccines to those 12 and older soon.