Winnipeg restaurant owner says industry teetering on edge ahead of increased COVID-19 restrictions

When Manitoba’s public health officials announced triple-digit COVID-19 case numbers Friday, along with ratcheted up pandemic restrictions, East India Company in downtown Winnipeg saw single-digit numbers of diners when the restaurant opened its doors.

Friday saw 480 cases, the highest number in a single day in the province since the start of the pandemic.

The level “red” restrictions, which go into effect in Winnipeg Monday, will see bars and restaurants forced to close except for take out and delivery while most retail will be reduced to 25 per cent capacity. Sports and recreation programming will be suspended and gyms and fitness centres will have to cut capacity to 25 per cent.

The rest of the province will move to level “orange” under Manitoba’s pandemic rating system Monday.

The shutdown comes amid rising novel coronavirus case numbers in the province — currently, Manitoba has the worst case count per capita countrywide while critical care capacity in Winnipeg hospitals is on the brink.

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Read more: ‘It’s scary’: Winnipeg hospital doctor worried about ICUs and lack of capacity

Restaurateurs, meanwhile, are concerned about the impact of another closure on their already thin margins — just seven cases of COVID-19 have been publicly linked by the province to restaurants or dining establishments in Winnipeg in the past month.

East India Company co-owner Sachit Mehra, whose family has run restaurants in Winnipeg since the 1970s, said he supports increased closures to stem the rise in cases — but warns the hard-hit hospitality industry is teetering on the edge.

“Let’s be clear, this is a disaster. If you look at the first closure that came along and that lasted some 60, 90 days, roughly across the board, I think it was very, very difficult,” Mehra said.

“To have a second closure in less than six months again and we don’t know again — we’re saying two weeks, it could be a little bit longer as well — beyond that time, I think for a lot of businesses it’s going to be very, very difficult.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Staggering 480 new Manitoba cases Friday, level red coming to Winnipeg

He’s seen five restaurants downtown either temporarily close or shutter completely in the past three weeks.

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Moreover, Mehra said, the restaurant industry is being treated as a scapegoat.

“If we are heading toward a closure — and we support a closure — then we should do a closure across the board. Having this odd multi-tier where you’re in a state of ‘red’ but restaurants are closed, but gyms are open, but churches are open, retail is still open — it’s a little odd,” Mehra said.

“The restaurants aren’t a vector, the vectors are really coming out of care homes and… we’re seeing them in large, private gatherings.”

Mehra would like to see more consultation with the business community and hospitality industry on the province’s part — and more financial help doled out.

“Without doing something for these small restaurants and these small retail shops… you could find yourself in a situation, without taking care a little bit right now, in a situation 12, 24 months out where the government is looking back to these places for business taxes, for utilities, for employment for its citizens and its simply not around — why, because we lost them a year ago,” Mehra said.

The president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce said Friday he’s frustrated by Manitoba’s COVID-19 case count and the impact on the community.

“I really feel for those businesses and the stress they’ve been under for the past eight months, just to know today that they’ve got to close their doors, for hopefully only a two-week time frame,” Chuck Davidson said.

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“It’s a real tough day for business in Manitoba.”

Click to play video 'Winnipeg metro area moving to level red amid surging COVID-19 cases' Winnipeg metro area moving to level red amid surging COVID-19 cases

Winnipeg metro area moving to level red amid surging COVID-19 cases

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