Public health officials may think they are serving up help to restaurants and fitness centres, but their owners don't believe the latest proposals to loosen restrictions will do any good.

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Public health officials may think they are serving up help to restaurants and fitness centres, but their owners don't believe the latest proposals to loosen restrictions will do any good.

On Thursday, Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer, said starting as early as March 5, restaurants could open up to 50 per cent of their capacity. Each table would still be limited to people from one household.

As well, Roussin said gyms and fitness centres could be allowed to provide group instruction or classes at 25 per cent capacity per class with physical distancing measures in place — and people could even take off their masks while exercising.

The measures are just a few of the numerous changes which public health officials say could take effect either March 5 or March 26, after the public is given the chance to have input.

The province is proposing restaurants such as The Nook (above) could open up to 50 per cent of their capacity, but each table would still be limited to people from one household. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The province is proposing restaurants such as The Nook (above) could open up to 50 per cent of their capacity, but each table would still be limited to people from one household. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

But Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant & Foodservices Association, said allowing restaurants to use 50 per cent capacity — but leaving in place the restriction that each table can only seat people from the same household — will do little to help.

"It's just a smoke show. It sounds like they are helping, but it doesn't," Jeffrey said.

"The only ones who can go for dinner are households with their children. Already operators are only getting one or two tables a night. Even if they allowed the household to bring the two other people who are allowed to visit them at home, that would help — but it's not allowed.

Currently, restaurants can operate at 25 per cent capacity.

"When people have been living at home and looking at the same people for three or six months, you don't want to go out for dinner with people you see every day, you want to go out with others."

Dino Camire, owner of One Family Fitness, and the province's representative on the Fitness Industry Council of Canada, said they're also not happy about the newest proposals. They also weren't consulted, he said.

Dino Camire, owner of One Family Fitness and the province's representative on the Fitness Industry Council of Canada, says the industry would like to see 50 per cent occupancy. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Dino Camire, owner of One Family Fitness and the province's representative on the Fitness Industry Council of Canada, says the industry would like to see 50 per cent occupancy. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"We would ask for 50 per cent occupancy across the board," said Camire. "I can have people get two to three metres apart, but with 25 per cent that means people are four to five metres apart."

Camire said they don't understand why — after months of public health officials encouraging the use of masks indoors — they would tell gyms, fitness centres and pools their clients don't need to wear masks while exercising, but still have to put them on when they are in other areas of the facility.

"Either gyms aren't safe, and you need to wear masks, or they are and you don't need to wear a mask. (Roussin) keeps saying the guidelines are clear, but they don't really make sense.

"We'll be submitting a proposal again."

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont called Thursday's proposals "Pallister's reopening mess," and deemed it "a grocery list of maybes."

Key proposed changes

• Allowing households the choice of continuing to designate two visitors to their home, or to designate a second household to visit each other, as long as everyone in the house has authorized those designated individuals to visit and families would have to choose either the two-person option or the additional household option

• Increasing gathering limits at an outdoor place to 10 people including for outdoor non-organized sport or recreation activities

• Increasing the capacity size at places of worship for regular religious services to 25 per cent or 100 people, whichever is lower, with physical distancing measures in place and mask requirements

• Enabling any type of business to be able to operate with the exception of indoor theatres, indoor concert halls, casino and bingo halls

• Allowing households the choice of continuing to designate two visitors to their home, or to designate a second household to visit each other, as long as everyone in the house has authorized those designated individuals to visit and families would have to choose either the two-person option or the additional household option

• Increasing gathering limits at an outdoor place to 10 people including for outdoor non-organized sport or recreation activities

• Increasing the capacity size at places of worship for regular religious services to 25 per cent or 100 people, whichever is lower, with physical distancing measures in place and mask requirements

• Enabling any type of business to be able to operate with the exception of indoor theatres, indoor concert halls, casino and bingo halls

• Expanding the capacity limits for retail stores, malls and personal services to up to 50 per cent capacity or 250 people, whichever is lower

• Expanding restaurants and licensed premises to up to 50 per cent capacity with requirements to still only sit with members of your household

• Allowing businesses to resume operating video lottery terminals, with physical distancing measures and barriers in place

• Allowing day camps for children to operate at 25 per cent capacity with a maximum group size of 50

• Allowing indoor recreation and sporting facilities, such as gyms, fitness centres, rinks, courts, fields, ranges, studios, clubs, pools and centres to open for individual use and group instruction and practices only

• Allowing dance, theatre and music facilities to open for individual instruction and group classes for a total capacity of 25 per cent

• Allowing gyms and fitness centres to provide group instruction or classes at 25 per cent capacity per class with physical distancing measures in place, in addition to one-on-one instruction and individual workouts for a total facility capacity of 25 per cent

• Allowing users of gyms, fitness centres and pools not to wear a mask while taking part in a physical activity, but requiring mask use in other areas of the facility.

"All these public health orders go beyond public health. These are political and economic decisions and we don’t know 100 per cent who is making them as the PCs continue to ask for public input," he said in a statement.

"Pallister seems to think that if he lets businesses open at a 25 per cent, he doesn’t have to lift a finger to help. He is forcing people out of business, he is forcing people not to work, and he is forcing people into debt... While people are going under, he’s handing out anchors instead of life-preservers."

Meanwhile, Roussin said the province would continue to remain under level red, to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

"We still see transmission of the virus occurring," he said. "We do have the (U.K. variant) detected in Manitoba. We still have people in our ICUs with COVID.

"We still have to be quite cautious."

But Roussin said with Manitoba's case numbers continuing to trend downward — 70 new cases and one death were announced on Thursday, while the five-day test positivity rate was down to 3.8 per cent in Winnipeg and 4.3 per cent provincially — it allows the province "to consider reopening more services cautiously and safely.

"However, with the (U.K. variant) now here in Manitoba, it is crucial that Manitobans continue to follow the fundamentals and avoid the activities that are known to cause the greatest risk."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
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Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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