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Prabjot Singh is taking an active approach to enforcing Winnipeg's face mask mandate.
The cashier at North End-based corner store Strikers Deli and Meats hand-writes a sign, reminding customers they have to wear a mask before entering the store.
On Monday morning, as a potential customer approaches the store, Singh slaps the sign against the locked glass door. The person goes back to their truck, grabs a mask, and is only then able to come in and shop (later purchasing soft drinks).
"Most of the people wear masks, (but) a few of them don’t wear it when we ask them," Singh said.
The additional measures came into effect Monday after chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced Friday the Winnipeg health region would enter the restricted "orange" level of Manitoba’s coronavirus pandemic response system. With it came mandatory mask use in all indoor public spaces.
Singh said store employees had warned customers last weekend in advance and had been only allowing three customers in at a time for a while.
"Yesterday, when I was working, two or three customers asked if it would be mandated from tomorrow. I said: 'Of course we will be asking them to leave if they don’t wear a mask because it’s for everyone’s safety.'"
Overall, Singh said, people have been agreeable.
Minutes later, a woman tries to enter the store without a mask. Through the glass, Singh stands his ground, and the door remains locked. She eventually leaves.
"I can’t breathe with that on. I have asthma, I have anxiety," the woman, who did not want to be named, told a reporter.
"Something covering my face constantly — I’ve had a mask on, but I’ve had to take it off right away because I can’t breathe."
She said she hadn’t heard masks had been mandated in Winnipeg, saying she has no access to the internet in her day-to-day life. She suggested the messaging hadn’t reached people in a similar situation.
"How am I supposed to know? I don’t watch TV, I don’t watch the news — even if I had a phone, I don’t have WiFi or could afford a chip," she said.
Meanwhile, Corydon Avenue eatery Falafel Place had a tough start to the week, according to general manager Jarrett Bargen. The breakfast and lunch shifts had been some of the slowest in recent memory, which, while construction is currently underway near the restaurant, he said could be partially due to the mandate.
"We did notice a severe decline in business today as opposed to regular Mondays — there’s actually not one person eating in the restaurant right now, at lunchtime, which is very odd," he said.
Those looking to visit a restaurant, for at least the next 28 days, will have to wear a mask when entering and walking around the establishment. Bargen said the first three customers of the day came in without masks, but went back to their vehicles and retrieved them when asked.
Regardless of whether it will affect business, Bargen said he supports the mask mandate and will continue to enforce it.
"As we see the (COVID-19 case) numbers increasing, we should be doing everything we can as a community to decrease the numbers, so mandatory masks in public places I think is a great idea, a great thing to impose," he said. "Probably should’ve been doing it before."
Elsewhere, Food Fare grocery chain owner Munther Zeid said he’d had a few customers come in without masks Monday morning, but asked employees to be lenient and let them finish shopping because it is only the first day of the mandate.
"We’ve had a few customers come in that truly didn’t know... It’s based on their reaction, if it really looks like they didn’t know," he said, stressing Food Fare will not be offering the same leniency on the second day.
"We’re hoping most customers will be co-operative and won’t put us in a situation where we have to tell them to leave," Zeid said.
One of the Portage Avenue Food Fare’s morning customers, Shelena Sorang, said she had no qualms about the mandate and had been wearing a face mask in public places for a while.
"I think they should have done it sooner... I think we were too laid-back for far too long."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Monday, September 28, 2020 at 4:15 PM CDT: Corrects typo in headline
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