Retail workers call for tighter enforcement of public health orders in Winnipeg mall

Some retail workers at CF Polo Park mall in Winnipeg say enforcement of new public health orders needs to be stronger in the shopping centre.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, announced new public health orders ahead of the Victoria Day weekend.

The new restrictions, which include permitting only one person per household to enter a business, came into effect Saturday and will be in effect until at least Wednesday.

But retail staff at Polo Park say they’re still seeing plenty of groups of people in the mall’s hallways, some ignoring other health precautions such as properly wearing masks.

“There are people walking everywhere together in groups of three, in groups of four and groups of two — not even hiding it,” said one retail worker, who spoke with CBC News on condition of anonymity out of fear of losing their job.

“There’s nobody approaching them. Security’s not approaching them.”

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Some shoppers will enter the mall one by one, then link up with their group after getting through the doors, the retail worker said.

They said they approached a security guard about that phenomenon, who told them that security is advising those people to stay apart.

Holly Enns, who has worked at a store in Polo Park for about a year, has seen as many as seven people in a group together.

Malls can operate at 10 per cent capacity under provincial public health rules. The above file photo shows customers waiting in line outside Bath & Body Works on Boxing Day. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Each respective store is in charge of its own capacity and enforcing public health rules. But Enns said she thinks the mall is otherwise over capacity based on how many whole families and friend groups are seen together in the halls.

Malls can currently operate at 10 per cent capacity, per provincial public health rules.

Mall needs better plan: worker

The anonymous retail worker said many mall employees are scared.

Meanwhile, others are just trying to get through their shifts without getting yelled by customers for enforcing health rules, said Enns.

The new COVID-19 restrictions were introduced to prevent a surge in cases stemming from gatherings over the May long weekend, similar to spikes experienced after Thanksgiving, Easter and spring break.

They also come as Manitoba combats record case numbers and the province’s health-care system is overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

“It’s a pandemic. People need to start acting like it is,” said Enns.

The other retail worker wants the mall to come up with a better plan to enforce the public health restrictions and hold people accountable.

“They need to be going up to all of these people that are walking together and tell them that they are not allowed to do that,” they said.

“We’re watching security in the mall. They’re walking right by these people, they’re not even talking to them.”

CBC News contacted Cadillac Fairview, the real estate company that owns Polo Park mall, on Sunday for comment but has not yet heard back.

Doctor wants malls closed

Lisa Bryski, a Winnipeg physician helping out with vaccine clinics, wants to see non-essential retail shut down because delaying that condemns Manitoba to further difficulty dealing with the pandemic’s third wave, she said.

“When you look at other places that are dealing with variants at the same time, in comparison, and when they do shut down and retail is part of it, they have results,” said Bryski.

“Have we had those results when we’ve left retail open? No.”

Bryski, who noted that retailers have done “a tremendous job” following health rules, is skeptical of provincial officials who say retail can remain open because there has been little transmission in that setting.

Lisa Bryski, a Winnipeg physician currently working at vaccine clinics, says the Manitoba government may have to review how it restricts different activities to avoid people looking for loopholes. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

“We have not seen the proof. If there was proof that it wasn’t affected, I’m sure that would have been on the table already,” she said.

With regards to the situation at Polo Park, Byrski says it’s human nature to look for loopholes.

But the public health orders are also up to an individual’s interpretation, so the province may have to review how it restricts certain activities, she said.

“If you think that non-essential outside activities are to be restricted, then non-essential inside activities also need to be restricted,” she said, adding that this would avoid any mixed messaging.