Public-health restrictions aimed at reducing the number of COVID-19 cases in Manitoba couldn’t have come at a worse time for businesses that rely on holiday traffic for a significant portion of their revenue.
This will be the second consecutive festive season in which restaurants, bowling alleys, reception halls and myriad other places will be forced to limit the numbers of people inside to comply with restrictions imposed Tuesday at midnight to head off a feared collapse of the province’s overwhelmed health-care system.
"We’re calling people to confirm numbers for parties and so far we’re just getting cancellations," a glum Nathan Bogg, a manager at Uptown Alley bowling lanes, said Monday.
“We had lots of parties booked and now they are cancelled. They aren’t just postponing, but cancelling. It especially hurts because these two weeks are usually the busiest of the year.” — Nathan Bogg, manager at Uptown Alley bowling lanes
"We had lots of parties booked and now they are cancelled. They aren’t just postponing, but cancelling. It especially hurts because these two weeks are usually the busiest of the year."
Swelling COVID-19 case numbers last week forced provincial health officials to make a hasty announcement late Friday afternoon that imposed private and public gathering-size restrictions four days before Christmas.
Private indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people in addition to the household if everyone is fully vaccinated, and five additional people if anyone in the group isn’t fully vaxxed.
Large-group gatherings are being limited to 50 per cent capacity with proof of vaccination, with the same rules for movie theatres, museums and gyms. Libraries are restricted to 50 per cent, but can allow unvaccinated people inside.
Shaun Jeffrey, executive director and CEO of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said it’s a tough time for restaurants to once again have to reduce the number of patrons inside to 50 per cent of capacity. As well, the new restrictions allow only a maximum of 10 people per table, require proof of vaccination and restrict patrons to table service only, cancelling buffet and brunch tables.
"We were made aware of the changes five minutes before the public was," said Jeffrey. "Restaurants are trying to get back on their feet again, so this is another blow. The timing couldn’t be any worse for us. This is two of our busiest weeks coming up. Last week, this week, and next week make up for the lull of January and February.
"We can’t continue to lose these major days."
Jeffrey called on the province to put in place financial help for the restaurant industry as quickly as possible.
"This will be the first time in a year there are restrictions without federal support," he said. "We’re really pushing hard for sector-specific support."
"The timing couildn’t be any worse for us. This is two of our busiest weeks coming up. Last week, this week, and next week make up for the lull of January and February." — Shaun Jeffrey, executive director and CEO of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association
The managers of both the Gates on Roblin and Saddlery on Market agreed restrictions are coming at an especially bad time of the year for restaurants and catering venues.
Gates manager Ray Louie said the restaurant announced on Sunday its all you can eat Sunday brunch has to be put on hold because of the provincial health restrictions limiting restaurant dining to table service only.
"I think there is a lot of fear out there, fear of the unknown and Omicron, plus other fears," said Louie. "One group cancelled because they were concerned about the optics of social media and getting together. Unfortunately, because of the timing, people aren’t postponing the event, they are cancelling them."
He said one of the biggest disappointments is the attitude of a small number of patrons.
"On Saturday, our 16-year-old hostess was accosted by a patron not wearing a mask. You would think an adult would know that is wrong; the 16-year-old didn’t come up with the rules," he said.
"It is disgusting."
Roula Alevizos, manager of the Saddlery, said the phone is ringing off the hook with cancellations.
"It’s happening to all of us," said Alevizos.
"I even had to cancel an event for 300 people myself. I had to cancel it completely because it was for a dance and you are not allowed to dance. And we’ve had a lot of reservations cancelled. People are afraid again."
Meanwhile, Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said there are two ways the provincial government can help: financial support should immediately be approved and the province should ramp up enforcement on people and businesses not following public-health orders.
"As quickly as the orders come in, government should provide support to businesses," he said. "A lot of businesses have been hit hard and have had to do it multiple times in 21 months.
"They should dust off the programs they’ve had and they can improve some of them too… we also have to step up enforcement. It is one thing to go into a restaurant to pick up food unvaccinated, but there are times the same person also doesn’t want to wear a mask."
Davidson said there is one silver lining in the latest public-health orders.
"We are not closing businesses — that was my big fear," he said.
"The opportunity to keep businesses open is a positive."
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.