Manitoba government announces yet more COVID-19 restrictions as numbers rise

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is imposing increased restrictions in the greater Winnipeg area due to rising COVID-19 numbers and business groups say the changes could push some establishments to close permanently.

Starting Monday, and lasting for two weeks, gatherings will be limited to five people. That will also be the maximum allowed to sit together at a restaurant table.

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Beverage rooms, bingo halls and casinos will have to close, while restaurants, lounges, retail stores, museums and libraries will be limited to half capacity.

The province's chief public health officer said the changes are necessary after case counts in the Winnipeg region spiked.

"We need to make this change, this sacrifice, for two weeks," Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday. He later added that the measures could be extended if numbers don't drop.

"We need to reduce our community transmission of this virus. We need to reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths."

Manitoba posted record numbers of daily new cases earlier in the week, although the 75 reported Friday was down sharply. The province has also seen deaths reported almost every day for the last week.

At one point in the summer, Manitoba had just one known active case of COVID-19. It was well over 1,000 on Friday.

Roussin said many of the cases in Winnipeg involve people between 20 and 40 years old, who gathered with friends in homes, bars and restaurants, so the new restrictions target those areas.

Roussin also said the province may increase fines that can be levied to anyone breaking the rules.

The Winnipeg region, which includes the city and surrounding communities, was already under tighter rules than the rest of the province after a case surge in late summer. Masks have been mandatory indoors, gatherings were limited to 10, and bars and restaurants had to stop selling liquor at 10 p.m.

The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce said it recognizes the need for public health measures, but warned that the lack of financial aid from the province means the new restrictions could push some establishments over the edge.

"There's only so much debt these companies can take on," chamber president Loren Remillard said.

"There's only so many repayable loans, low-interest loans, before they sit there and have to ask themselves the hard question — is it just easier to shut the doors?"

The Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association said its members have already spent money on cleaning and installing barriers between tables to abide by previous public health orders and the government's new 50 per cent capacity limit will hurt.

"We're drowning, and they just put their foot on our head," said Shaun Jeffrey, the association's executive director.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen was noncommittal when asked whether the province will offer direct financial aid to affected businesses. He pointed to existing pandemic aid programs such as wage subsidies for new or rehired employees.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2020

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