Editorial: Pain of pandemic battle likely to worsen before getting better

Anyone who still dreamed that the COVID-19 pandemic wouldn't hit Manitoba as hard as it has elsewhere or that the province's north would somehow be able to keep the virus out has probably had their hopes dashed over the past week or so as the number of cases in the province increased nearly fivefold from March 23 to March 30 and the first positive test in the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA) area occurred.

As Premier Brian Pallister said in a March 30 news conference, fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint, and Manitoba has many miles to go before the finish line is even going to begin to come into sight.

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Businesses and their workers who were already feeling the pinch as a result of previous social distancing measures and public health orders will feel it even more acutely for at least the next two weeks, as many more businesses will be forced to join those who have already had to shut their doors, though some, like restaurants, will be able to continue in an altered form, with dine-in service prohibited as of one minute after midnight April 1 until at least April 14, though delivery and take out are still on the menu.

Given that many small businesses have less than 30 days’ worth of cash on hand, being forced to closed their doors for at least two weeks is going to cause pain right now and long into the future. With the pandemic situation changing daily and the future harder to predict than ever, all we can say for certain is that some entrepreneurs will almost certainly be forced out of business by the coronavirus and the ones that do survive may take years to get back to where they were in February, when COVID-19 wasn’t even part of most Manitobans’ vocabulary.

While the federal government has announced some financial measures to aid businesses in their efforts to stay above water until life can return to something like it was before the coronavirus went global, it might not be enough, and it would be good to see the provincial government enact some measures of its own to try to ease the pain.

“April is the cruellest month,” said T.S. Eliot, and while we all wish that his words didn’t ring so true this year, they could also contain a glimmer of hope. If, indeed, it does prove the cruellest, that means May would be better. That is by no means a guarantee, and it could, in fact, be worse, but right now, it isn’t very helpful to look too far ahead. Less than three weeks after the first positive test for COVID-19 was announced in Manitoba, the economic landscape for the province is practically unrecognizable. And the usefulness of social distancing efforts, along with good hand washing and other proper hygiene are, unfortunately, a bit like the light from distant stars. It takes time for the effects to reach us and the way the situation seems today is actually often more reflective of how it was a week or two ago. With non-critical businesses being forced to shut down temporarily, however, more of us than ever before likely have little to do but wait.

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