Dino Camiré is counting down the days before the province makes his business a "pandemic scapegoat" again.
He said it happened before when restrictions were loosened last fall, and believes it’ll happen again after updated public-health orders come into effect this Friday.
"It won’t be my fault or any other businesses included in these reopenings," said the operator of One Family Fitness Centre in Winnipeg. "But what happens when COVID-19 cases start rising again? It’ll be so much easier to blame us, even though we’re the ones stuck following and trying to understand their confusing rules."
Camiré’s frustrations are among many from business owners in the province, who the Manitoba government is allowing to reopen — but with stringent capacity limits and with regulations they described to the Free Press as vague, confusing and "frankly, offensive."
On Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister confirmed that restaurants, gyms, nail salons and tattoo parlours are among a sweeping list of services set to reopen at reduced 25-per-cent capacity, as of 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 12. Those rules will remain in place for at least three weeks.
"We have folks who have waited patiently and done their very, very best to support this provincial effort," Pallister told reporters, joining chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin at a news conference. "Today is another big day for Manitobans."
Restrictions to be further eased FridayClick to Expand
Posted: 11:33 AM Feb. 9, 2021
Beginning Friday, Manitobans can once again dine in a restaurant, work out in a gym, get their nails done, worship together or play hockey outdoors — as long as pandemic protocols are followed.
The provincial government’s “cautious” easing of restrictions follows weeks of lower COVID-19 case counts and a steady drop in the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals and intensive-care units.
The new pandemic orders, however, come with several caveats — especially for fitness centres and restaurants. The rules were also announced without any extension to provincial relief programs. At gyms or yoga studios, change-room facilities can only be used to access washrooms. And while individual workouts or one-on-one instruction between a staff member and patron is permitted, group classes — even if they’re physically distanced — are not allowed.
"It’s the nature of this pandemic," said Roussin, when asked why that is. "This is what we can loosen now, and not all of it can happen."
Manitoba restaurants are required to self-police customers by asking if they’re from the same household before seating them together. No more than five people per table are allowed, and liquor can only be served if a meal has been ordered. They must also shut down indoor dining at 10 p.m.
Asked how the restaurant restrictions will work, Dr. Roussin said, "there’s a lot of reasonable ways in which that can be done," without defining any of them specifically.
He said gathering information for contact tracing is mandated, which might mean noting down individual addresses to ensure they’re from the same households. "We wrote these orders in such a way that the burden (of proof) is both on people from and not from households and the operators," said Roussin.
“It won’t be my fault or any other businesses included in these reopenings. But what happens when COVID–19 cases start rising again? It’ll be so much easier to blame us, even though we’re the ones stuck following and trying to understand their confusing rules.” – Dino Camiré
For Steve Hrousalas, who owns Rae & Jerry’s Steak House on Portage Avenue, it’s all "incredibly confusing and cryptic."
"They haven’t asked us outright, so I don’t exactly know whether we’re supposed to get IDs or how this will work for that household rule," Hrousalas said Tuesday. "I do know that it’ll be completely awkward and just ridiculous asking a same-sex couple these questions or a family that doesn’t look like each other."
Hrousalas said he won’t be opening lunch hours until he’s received clarity about the new rules. "It’s mostly office people that would come in for then, and I don’t know if it’s worth opening," he said. "I have to start hiring triple the people I have now for any of this, and I can only have less than a quarter of my tables open. This weekend won’t be like any other years."
“Of course, they all want that business for Valentine’s Day. But they have to ask themselves, is this something we can even afford? And most of them simply can’t.” – Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association
Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said that’s why he expects up to three-quarters of all members to stop short from reopening this weekend.
"Of course, they all want that business for Valentine’s Day," he said. "But they have to ask themselves, is this something we can even afford? And most of them simply can’t."
"It’s not like the province is extending any support for them to slowly reopen while dealing with the expenses to do so, either," said Jonathan Alward, Manitoba director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. "They have the capacity to do so, the funds are still left for the Bridge Grant from last time around.
"But somehow they’ve decided not to. And now businesses have to make these difficult decisions."
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for this Free Press reporting position comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.