Manitoba's 3rd lockdown another 'brutal' hit for small businesses

Manitobans woke up on Sunday to a strict lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 as the province battles some of the highest number of infections per capita in the country.

Small business owners gutted by the news, but public health officials say more must be done to prevent spread

A number of businesses, including salons and gyms, were forced to close on Sunday. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Manitobans woke up on Sunday to a lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 as the province battles some of the highest per capita infections in the country.

Not only are restaurants, bars and patios in Manitoba now closed to in-person dining, many other businesses like salons and gyms are shut down entirely for three weeks, the latest public health order says.

Indoor religious, cultural and community gatherings are also not allowed. Outdoor gatherings in public areas involving people from more than one household are limited to a maximum of five people.

These strict measures are devastating to small businesses, says Jonathan Alward of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

"I don't know how you can expect business owners to keep pushing through this," he said.

"They've already taken on, on average through Manitoba and Saskatchewan, $180,000 in debt just related to COVID-19."

Restaurants and bars are among the list of businesses affected by Manitoba's third lockdown. They are limited to takeout or delivery services as of Sunday. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

He says small businesses desperately need financial support from the province.

"What we heard coming out of the second lockdown was we didn't want there to be a yoyo. Well the yoyo's back, and there are no supports," he said, adding that some business owners are "giving up hope."

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Shawn Brandson, the owner of Promenade Cafe and Wine had to cancel all of his Mothers Day reservations and is out about $6,000 from all the food he bought for the occasion, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

"It's tough because you're trying to do the right things to keep people safe, but you know, 24 hours notice that we're shutting down again, it was a bit of a shocker," he said.

Sachit Mehra, the co-owner and manager of the East India Company, says another lockdown is "brutal" for his bottom line and needs government support to make it through.

The last 15 months have been very challenging for his restaurant because he normally counts on tourists or people who work downtown popping by for lunch or dinner.

"It's not a matter of writing off the year — that almost goes without saying — we're now looking at writing off retirement," Mehra said.

Stricter measures needed

As difficult as a lockdown is for local businesses, doctors and epidemiologists have been calling for a circuit-breaker shutdown for weeks because the number of people infected with COVID-19 is quickly rising.

Manitoba now has the second-highest per capita rate of new infections in the country, reporting 502 new cases Friday and 488 on Saturday.

Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens is a medical microbiologist at St. Boniface Hospital and is concerned it's too little, too late.

Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens is a medical microbiologist and physician at St. Boniface Hospital. He's worried the third wave will be worse than the second and is encouraging everyone to be vaccinated as soon as possible. (Philippe Lagacé-Wiens/Facebook)

"I'm still worried that it's insufficient to ensure that transmission will be curtailed because of all the other non-essential businesses that remain open," he said, adding that Grades 7 to 12 schools should be closed, too.

It's difficult for parents to find care for younger children, especially parents who are essential workers, he says, and there are measures in place to protect them in school.

Lagacé-Wiens says he and his health-care colleagues are "gravely concerned" about the projected number of COVID-19 patients who will become seriously ill, especially in light of how busy those in health care already are.

"We are already getting to the point where the health-care system is very strained and it's only going to get worse from from here into the next four to six weeks," he said.

A light at the end of the tunnel is the COVID-19 vaccines, Lagacé-Wiens said.

"Our best chance at this point of even a half-normal summer, near the end of summer maybe, is for enough people to be immunized. I encourage all Manitobans to go and do that as soon as they possibly can."

With files from Austin Grabish and Chloe Diore de Perigny