Manitoba’s latest loosening of pandemic restrictions is coming as a pleasant surprise to many, including business owners who learned Wednesday morning that they’ll be able to expand their capacity by the weekend.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, announced the new rules, which go into effect Saturday morning.
Among the changes: personal services businesses such as hair and nail salons, estheticians and barbers will be allowed to reopen at 50 per cent capacity, on an appointment basis only.
Rachel van Osch, co-owner of Diversity Hair Studio, told Global News that her phones have been ringing off the hook since the news broke.
“It was relieving. It’s been a long seven weeks that we’ve been shut down,” she said.
“The phones are going off, it’s just non-stop. It’s a little overwhelming, because I know it’s going to be a bit of a crazy weekend trying to fit everyone in — and it’s a bit of a surprise. I was expecting 25 per cent (capacity) at the most and opening July 1 at the least.
“It’s a bit of a double-whammy with being open a little bit sooner and at higher capacity. We’re thankful for the higher capacity… it’s just a little crazy.”
Van Osch said the uncertainty of the past few months has been difficult for everyone involved in her business — from ownership to staff to clients.
“I was having people texting me asking for yard cuts, to come to their homes inconspicuously. It’s really hard to say no … I said no to my own grandmother, so I’m going to say no to everybody.”
The province’s bridge grant program, van Osch said, has been helpful, but her closed doors and lack of income — plus bills to pay — left her concerned about the future.”
Another Winnipegger in the industry who has been affected by the restrictions is Jeremy Regan of Hunter & Gunn barbershop, who was the subject of headlines earlier this month after raising concerns about the provincial orders.
Regan suggested the ‘yard cuts’ idea, as a way to make money during the shutdown, although that plan was eventually kiboshed by the province.
“I feel like crying — some tears of happiness, but it just feels like you’re carrying the burden and stress for so long, it’s a mixture of emotion, I’m not going to lie,” he said.
“I don’t want to temper it by saying I’m not excited — I’m extremely excited for my staff … but it’s an emotional day.
“People are as excited about it as I am. These are clients I see every four weeks, every six weeks, and we’ve been through everything together. They’re just so excited for us.”
Regan said it’s up to Manitobans now to abide by provincial restrictions and to get vaccinated to help prevent any further shutdowns.
“I’m very happy to be back. Let’s all pull together and get through this together so we don’t have to go down this road (again).”
“Let’s not be dum-dums and remind ourselves that we can keep everything going.”
After weeks with an empty dining room, Silver Heights Restaurant and Lounge owner, Tony Siwicki said he’s happy to see changes to the rules that will allow him to open his patio at 50 per cent capacity and return to indoor service at 25 per cent capacity.
“That’s more than what we expected, so yes, pretty impressed with how this plan has actually come to fruition (and) a week ahead of schedule, so it’s a win, I believe,” said Siwicki, who also chairs the Manitoba Restaurant & Foodservices Association.
“We weren’t sure what we were going to get or if we were going to get anything.”
Siwicki said restaurants like his aren’t able to turn a profit on take-out alone and while 25 per cent capacity for his dining room won’t be enough to return to profitability, he says it’s a good start.
“We need 100 per cent capacity,” Siwicki said, adding he expects it will take three or four years for restaurants that survive COVID-19 to fully recover.
“There’s a lot of stuff that needs to get paid … this is going to help us out, but no, that’s not going to keep our heads above water at 25 per cent.”
Under the new health orders, gyms and fitness facilities may reopen for individual and group fitness classes at 25 per cent capacity with three metres distance maintained between patrons.
The owner of the Pan Am Boxing Club and Gym in Winnipeg’s Exchange District told Global News he’s decided not to reopen at this time, despite the loosened restrictions.
“We have 500 members who are all clamouring to get back on site and get their workouts going again,” said Harry Black.
“Despite that, our decision would be likely not to open up at all, as much as it’s going to hurt us financially.
“If the level of virus infections stays very low, we would then start to reassess our closed position.”
Ignite Cycle owner Denis Camracosky said he’s happy to be able to open again, but thinks the province could have cut fitness studios some more slack.
Camracosky said because of the minimum distance restrictions, he won’t be able to achieve 25 per cent capacity even if he wanted to.
“You’re telling me I can open 25 per cent, but because the distance between patrons is so big, I cannot go 25 per cent,” he said.
“I don’t fully agree with them. I think it was fair game to say 25 per cent, but six feet apart, not to keep that nine feet apart that we had in the second wave.”
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said any reopening plan should have more details on health care.
“If we are serious about a reopening in Manitoba, our reopening plan has to include a plan for strengthening our health-care system,” Kinew said.
There were 222 Manitobans in hospitals due to COVID-19 as of Wednesday, including 13 people in intensive-care units.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, said people must remain cautious because COVID-19 is still spreading in the community.
“This pandemic is certainly not over,” he said.
The next step of Manitoba’s plan, if vaccination rates are met, is to begin Aug. 2.
–With files from Shane Gibson and The Canadian Press