Despite calls by health officials to avoid large crowds in the wake of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Winnipeg, malls and regular gathering places like the Forks were still bustling Saturday — albeit slightly less than usual.
Public health guidelines warn to keep a two-metre distance between yourself and others. Manitoban officials have not banned large public gatherings, but school is cancelled, universities and colleges are moving classes online and the city announced it will shutter pools, libraries and recreation centres Monday among other measures to quell the spread of the virus.
Four cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Manitoba. All of the patients are Winnipeggers and had recently travelled internationally. Nationwide, there are 253 cases — 250 are confirmed, three are presumptive and 11 have been resolved.
North Dakotan Alexis Doree had a trip to Winnipeg planned this weekend to celebrate her sister’s 18th birthday. They thought about cancelling their Airbnb but found they wouldn’t get a full refund.
Instead, the Dorees decided to take their chances crossing the border for their girls’ weekend.
“We figured we might as still go,” she said outside the Forks market. “This sounds silly, but we take Clorox wipes with us everywhere, clean the surface, wash our hands extra, make sure we wash our phones.”
Gayle Farkas, her husband and her grandson went to the Children’s Museum before popping into the Forks Saturday afternoon — a weekly outing for the couple and their boy.
“There’s not as many people here today,” Farkas said, noting the museum only had about a dozen patrons when they went. “As long as you take precautions, you wash your hands, you don’t shake hands with people, you follow protocol — you’re pretty safe.”
It’s life as normal for Farkas, but with more elbow bumps than handshakes.
Inside the Forks, the Common was busy with people eating lunch, sipping beer and chatting, but around half a dozen tables were empty at the normally crowded hall at midday.
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Shoppers at CF Polo Park were going about their business too — Cadillac Fairview, the mall’s owner, announced it is reducing operating hours at its 19 malls nationwide.
Lance Kenyon works in the mall — he’s not too worried about the virus, he said, but noted the risk of COVID-19’s spread is there.
“You have people coming into the store, you don’t know where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing or whether they’re taking precautions. It can be concerning,” he said. “You still need to pay your bills.”
He’s more concerned about his parents and grandparents than himself, he said. He’s been attentively washing his hands, avoiding touching his face and trying to be more aware of the surfaces he touches.
If he does start feeling sick, he said he plans to self-quarantine as directed by health officials.
But he still needs to pay his bills, he said.