It's still lights out at night clubs and standalone bars in Winnipeg, despite further loosening of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Starting Friday, restaurants and licensed establishments already permitted to be open will be allowed to increase capacity to 50 per cent.
Only household members are allowed to sit together, establishments must collect customer’s contact information, and patrons are to wear face masks when not seated. Food must be served with alcohol, and the businesses have to be closed between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
"The orders are not expected to change for licensed premises other than the capacity limits," a provincial spokesperson said in an email Tuesday.
The news left Manitoba nightclub proprietors out in the cold.
"It’s getting to be hard to call it an industry," said Scott Townsend, assistant manager at World Famous Palomino Club in downtown Winnipeg.
"We’re a pretty tight-knit community and we all talk. As far as nightclubs go, there’s just going to be a handful left. If we don’t get going soon, there might not even be that."
Nightclubs don't typically open until 9 or 10 p.m. and dance floors are one of the main draws, Townsend said. "(Current pandemic orders) makes us non-existent."
Insurance costs are high for such businesses, and though the Palomino is receiving a federal rent subsidy, there are still monthly bills to pay, he said.
"You have your leases, you have your heat and electrical, which, granted, is way down because we’re not open but we still have a bill for that," Townsend said Tuesday.
"At some point, asking owners to just fork out thousands of dollars every month without any money coming in, it’s going to hurt the industry... Clubs are already gone. If this keeps up, they’ll be more to follow."
The Palomino reopened its doors in July 2020 after the spring's first shutdowns, with some dance floors closed and increased sanitation.
All nightclubs closed again at the end of September, as COVID-19 case numbers began to rise in Manitoba and the province moved into its code orange restrictions. The doors have remained shuttered since, with roughly 50 employees out of work at the Palomino alone.
In late September, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said roughly half of the province's positive cases in weeks prior could be linked to young people, many in their 20s, gathering at crowded restaurants, pubs, bars and clubs.
Some were found to have visited more than one establishment in a night, while others went out despite being symptomatic, the province said. In one case, 36 close contacts were identified for a single individual.
Erik Pindera is a multimedia producer at the Winnipeg Free Press.