Manitoba is expanding a business grant program meant to support businesses amid the province’s latest round of COVID-19 public health orders.
As of Sunday, Manitoba has capped outdoor gatherings at five people, limited restaurants, bars and patios to takeout and delivery and closed some businesses. The new restrictions and closures were announced Friday.
On Monday Premier Brian Pallister announced the government will be making grants up to $5,000 available to affected businesses and organizations through the Manitoba Bridge Grant program.
“We recognize this quick closure for many businesses will have a significant impact on their operations,” Pallister said.
The round of funding is the fourth announced through the program and the province says it will provide up to $71 million in immediate financial support to eligible small and medium-sized businesses, not-for-profits, and charities impacted by the latest round of restrictions.
With the latest funding, the Manitoba Bridge Grant program will now have doled out $268 million since it launched in November, Pallister said.
He said eligible businesses that received prior grants will automatically receive a fourth payment of up to $5,000 starting as early as Friday.
The province also announced a $2,000 top-up for restaurants on top of the $5,000 to cover things like food waste, employee wages, maintenance or insurance. Some 1,800 restaurants are expected to qualify, to the tune of $3.6 million, according to the province.
Another $2 million is also being given to the Dine-In Restaurant Relief program to help restaurants shift towards a delivery model, the province said in a release.
“While we urge Manitobans to stay home as much as possible over the next few weeks, we also want to encourage Manitobans to continue to support our many small businesses,” said Pallister.
“The best thing we can do for our local business community right now is to bend our COVID-19 curve down, so they can get back to doing what they do best, employ Manitobans and offer services Manitobans rely on.”
Pallister made the announcement at a Monday press conference, his first appearance in front of Manitobans since his government enacted tighter COVID-19 restrictions and announced schools in both Winnipeg and Brandon will be moving to remote learning.
The new restrictions, which also include the closure of gyms, museums, art galleries and libraries, will last until May 30.
Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, announced the tighter restrictions by himself at a rare late-Friday press conference.
At another rare Sunday press conference, Roussin was joined by Education Minister Cliff Cullen to announce all schools from ages kindergarten to Grade 12 in Winnipeg and Brandon will move to remote learning Wednesday through May 30.
Many, including health-care workers, have been calling on the Pallister government for weeks to enact stiffer restrictions over concerns the province’s hospitals and intensive care units would be overwhelmed by climbing case counts.
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society has also been calling on the government to close schools over concerns about the virus spreading through classrooms.
On Monday Pallister acknowledged the announcements on additional restrictions Friday and school closures Sunday were done “out of a sense of urgency, without a lot of advanced notice.”
He was unapologetic.
“For that, I am not going to apologize,” he said. “I’m going to say we had to act, we chose to act, we believe we did the right thing, but we also recognize that there was an impact on the operations of, particularly the restaurant industry.”
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew accused the Tories of once again leaving families scrambling to find child care and figure out how they will move their children to online classes.
“We are dealing with a third wave that’s made worse because our government has not learned from the mistakes they made in the first and second wave,” Kinew said.
Manitoba reported 1,020 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday and Sunday, and six additional deaths over the two days. Another 502 cases and four deaths were announced Monday.
–With files from The Canadian Press
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