Help coming for Manitoba businesses hit by latest COVID-19 restrictions, province says

Both the Opposition Manitoba NDP and business advocates say the government needs to step in to help businesses affected by new pandemic restrictions that came into effect Tuesday.

'People are losing their wages and here we are just a few sleeps before Christmas,' Opposition leader says

A masked bartender pours a beer in an October file photo. Food services industry and business advocates in Manitoba say they hope to see help from the provincial government, as new restrictions came into effect Tuesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Details are coming this week on a program to provide support for businesses affected by the latest pandemic health restrictions in Manitoba, Finance Minister Scott Fielding said Tuesday.

That announcement comes after both the Opposition NDP and business advocates said the government needs to step in to help, as new restrictions came into effect Tuesday.

Restaurants, bars and theatres are now restricted to 50 per cent capacity in Manitoba, as part of an effort to stem the threat of the Omicron coronavirus variant. 

NDP Leader Wab Kinew compared the situation to A Christmas Carol, the classic Charles Dickens novella about the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. 

"People are losing their wages and here we are just a few sleeps before Christmas," he said. 

Shaun Jeffrey, CEO of the Manitoba Restaurants and Food Services Association, said Monday that restaurants and lounges will lose a lot of income during what is typically their busiest season of the year. 

"We're hoping that … the government can come to the table with some sort of assistance with this, because our industry is first to close and last open, and shouldering the brunt of trying to keep Manitobans safe," he said.

Manitoba Chambers of Commerce president Chuck Davidson said while the rapid spread of the Omicron variant took everyone by surprise, it's time for the province to revisit government support programs for businesses, most of which have ended.

"What we're looking at right now is [asking] that those businesses that are asked to really shoulder the burden of this debt are to be compensated in return for that, and I don't think that's unreasonable whatsoever," he said. 

That help is coming, the province says.

"A program to provide further support for businesses impacted by the most recent public health restrictions is being finalized and details will be announced tomorrow," Fielding said in an email to CBC on Tuesday.

Mitesh Trivedi, owner/operator of Charisma of India, said restaurants across the province have been forced to cancel or reschedule reservations to get under the province's new 10-person per table limit. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Many restaurants have been disrupted by the latest restrictions. In addition to cutting capacity in half, reservations larger than 10 people to a table are no longer allowed. 

Charisma of India on Corydon Avenue has cancelled two reservations with dozens of people apiece, owner Mitesh Trivedi said.

"We all were hoping that this will be a better month. Since 2019, we are kind of out of commission in the restaurant, but then unfortunately it didn't work out again this year."

Call in military to help with surge: NDP

The Opposition is also urging the province to bring in the military to help, as the Omicron variant threatens to overwhelm Manitoba's health-care system.

On Monday, the province reported 809 new cases of COVID-19 and six deaths over three days, with 333 cases on Sunday alone. 

Another 302 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Tuesday.

Ottawa said Saturday that it will send up to eight intensive care unit nurses from the Canadian Red Cross to Manitoba in response to a request from the province the previous weekend.

Kinew said that won't be enough, and the province should call in the military now. 

In addition to calling for help for Manitoba businesses, the Opposition NDP says the military needs to be brought in to prevent the province's health-care system from being overwhelmed as COVID-19 cases continue to climb. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

"We need many more nurses, respiratory therapists and health-care professionals to help bolster the situation in ICUs," he said. 

"They need to treat this situation with the urgency it demands. That begins with calling in the military."

The NDP leader said just over a year ago his party was calling on then-premier Brian Pallister to bring in the military as Manitoba dealt with hundreds of new COVID-19 cases a day and deadly outbreaks at several personal care homes. 

He called on Premier Heather Stefanson not to follow in the footsteps of her predecessor, who had said the military wouldn't be needed. 

A spokesperson for Manitoba Health said the province is thankful for the support from the Canadian Red Cross and the federal government, with nurses arriving Monday to boost staffing at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre.

The offer of eight nurses, however, falls short of the province's original request for 15 to 30 nurses for a six-week period.

"Conversation continues with the federal government to source additional health human resource assistance," the Manitoba Health spokesperson said in an email.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson


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