As COVID case counts climb, Manitoba businesses brace for possible tightening of restrictions
'If they ... reduce the capacity, I'm going to have to lay off a lot of people,' restaurant owner says
Manitoba business owners are bracing for possible new restrictions as the province enters its third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's hard to hear," said Meghan Glennie, co-owner of Limitless Cycle and Strength in Winnipeg. "It's been a struggle the past year for every business, but especially being a new business."
The fitness studio opened its Stafford Street doors just before the pandemic hit in January 2020.
It's been shut down twice and is currently only able to operate at 25 per cent capacity, with masks, under provincial public health orders.
"Going below 25 per cent wouldn't be viable for our business," she said, adding further restrictions would "completely close our doors."
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On Monday, Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, warned Manitoba may have to tighten restrictions soon. He pointed to days of triple-digit COVID-19 cases, a test positivity rate above six per cent and the more contagious B117 variant becoming the dominant strain in Manitoba.
Recent data shows the number of close contacts of positive cases is increasing and more cases are being tied to private and faith-based gatherings, Roussin said.
The province is considering clamping down on private gatherings and indoor activities and imposing an outdoor mask mandate. He said details on restrictions would come soon.
John Kolevris, who owns Saffron's restaurant, said further restrictions to his Winnipeg business would likely result in job losses.
The Corydon Avenue restaurant has gone from four to 38 staff members in recent months as it gears up for a busy patio season.
"It doesn't feel good for me and the employees," he said. "If they put a restriction and reduce the capacity, I'm going to have to lay off a lot of people."
New restrictions could be 'huge blow': CFIB
Jonathan Alward, prairie director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said stress is mounting in the business community as further potential restrictions loom.
"It's very concerning to say the least. There are so many businesses that are still just trying to get back on their feet. They're not even breaking even yet because there are still very significant restrictions still in place across the province," he said. "Additional restrictions at this point in time could be a huge blow."
Recent data from the organization indicated just 34 per cent of small businesses are operating at or above normal revenues for this time year of year, he said.
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"A lot of small business owners I've talked to want to make sure we're getting to the root of the problem," said Alward. "Whatever public health does needs to reflect where the problems are actually happening."
Loren Remillard, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, agrees.
"It's coming from social gatherings, sleepovers, parties," he said, echoing Roussin's comments on Monday. "That's not the business community, but unfortunately the business community is having to bear the brunt of decisions they haven't made. They have been complying."
He underlined a year into the pandemic, the financial implications of restrictions and closures are even more dire for businesses.
Financial support from province a must
Remillard hopes the province ramps up vaccination efforts and said any restrictions should be met with direct financial support from the provincial government to assist businesses with fixed costs.
He pointed to Alberta, which recently announced new public health restrictions and up to $10,000 for small- and medium-size businesses, on top of a $20,000 grant previously offered to businesses impacted by revenue loss.
"We really hope the province doesn't wait," Remillard said. "Business needs to know what kind of aid they can expect from the province at the same time they're planning to deal with any potential restrictions that might come into force."
In March, Manitoba expanded its bridge grant program to assist small- and medium-size businesses, non-profits and charities impacted by pandemic restrictions. Eligible businesses which received a first and second bridge grant payment, worth up to $5,000 each, would automatically receive a third payment of the same amount. Meanwhile, new applicants were eligible for a one-time payment of a maximum of $15,000.
Alward applauded the program, but said more targeted financial support will be needed if restrictions are increased or prolonged.
Back at Glennie's fitness studio, she is hopeful her business makes it through another wave to keep up people's physical and mental health, she said, adding they have fortunately not had any COVID-19 cases or exposures.
"As business owners and members of the community we're all trying to do our part," she said. "If there's businesses, like ours, that you're not seeing the spread we hope that we're able to stay open under the restrictions that we have now."