P.E.I. businesses scramble to deal with COVID-19 fallout
'We kind of have to put that financial worry aside'
Businesses across P.E.I. are feeling the pressure over the COVID-19 pandemic and are scrambling to find new ways to serve their customers.
While some Charlottetown shop windows had signs declaring they were open Tuesday, many businesses are exploring different ways to serve customers. This includes offering pick-up services so shoppers don't have to enter stores, or to stop taking cash like P.E.I. Cannabis and liquor stores.
Some, like Kinetic Fitness, are closing their doors altogether.
Owner Amila Topic says she's put many new policies in place to protect clients while they work out at the gym, including new cleaning procedures and cancelling group fitness programs. But after hearing of P.E.I's first confirmed case of COVID-19, she decided staying open wasn't worth the risk.
"A lot of my circle of friends are also small business owners and that's sort of been the discussion is kind of what's next," she said.
While Topic said she is worried about how this will affect her business over the coming months, she believes now is a time to put those concerns aside. She said she's now thinking about how to best protect the health and safety of those in the community and encouraging other businesses to do the same.
"My message now to other business owners is we kind of have to put that financial worry aside and make the decision ultimately for the betterment of our community and the safety and wellness of our community," she said.
Dining rooms close
In a news briefing Tuesday afternoon, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison announced all Island bars and restaurants will close in-room dining effective immediately.
I think we all want to do what we can to put it behind us.— Kevin Murphy
She emphasized the need for Islanders to stay home if they can and as much as possible, regardless of whether they have a travel history.
For some restaurants, the news didn't come as a surprise.
Kevin Murphy, president and CEO of Murphy Hospitality Group, said the company will be laying off about 200 employees on P.E.I., and a total of 400 people across the Maritimes.
The group issued a news release Tuesday afternoon indicating all its restaurant dining rooms would close by 5 p.m.
"We want to do what's right for our community and make sure we're part of the solution," Murphy said.
"It's unprecedented in our industry, it's serious and I think we all want to do what we can to put it behind us."
Murphy said some restaurants will remain open to offer take-out and pick-up services. He said the company will also be introducing curb-side service that will involve a centralized pick-up location for several Murphy Group restaurants.
Morrison said theatres, including movie theatres, and indoor play areas will also close.
Some left with unanswered questions
In addition to a $25 million relief fund, the province announced it would provide a $500 weekly payment for self-employed Islanders as well as loans of up to $100,000 for small businesses.
The province has also set up a phone line for P.E.I. businesses affected by COVID-19 to support employers as they try to figure out what to do next. Many Islanders reported long waits on hold and difficulty getting through.
Dawn Keith said she was one of them and despite the support the government announced, she's still left with pressing questions.
Keith co-owns Harbourview Restaurant in Murray Harbour, which she hopes to open for the season next month.
"My main concern, what I'm trying to find out is my seasonal staff who are coming up to the end of their EI, that I can't bring back until this is over — I'm trying to find out what's available for them," Keith said.
Keith said she normally hires 13 employees for the summer months, but will now only be taking on three so she can continue to provide take-out options for her customers.
She also said she's left wondering what this situation will mean once tourist season arrives for her seasonal workers.
"July and August is tourist season —we need those tourists or we just can't survive," Keith said.
"I'm just concerned about keeping my staff so that they can earn enough money and actually to get enough hours until next year's EI."
Keith said she plans to continue trying to get through on the province's phone line in search of answers.
In a statement, the province said the phone lines received hundreds of calls throughout the first day they were open.
It has six lines open with 20 staff taking calls. The province is asking Islanders for their patience.
COVID-19: What you need to know
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Common symptoms include:
But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.
What should I do if I feel sick?
Isolate yourself and call your local public health authority. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested.
How can I protect myself?
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Be aware of evolving travel advisories to different regions.
More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.
More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.
With files from Nicola MacLeod