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'It's a COVID outbreak waiting to happen'

·4 min read

A raft of out-of-town vendors who had set up booths were booted from a large pop-up market in Winnipeg after it became known that they failed to isolate for 14 days upon arriving in Manitoba.

But the province is allowing the market to proceed throughout the weekend despite Manitoba being in the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cynthia Carr, a Winnipeg epidemiologist, fears the virus may have already spread at the site of the Third + Bird market at Red River Exhibition Place because the vendors had interacted with people like Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Colorother organizers who will be in attendance.

“It’s indoors, so yes, I’m definitely worried,” she said.

Out-of-town members invited to the market came from Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia, and at least one vendor from Georgia.

Under current orders, Third + Bird can host up to 500 shoppers, plus those working at the market, or just under 50 per cent capacity at Exhibition Place because they are considered a retailer.

“This wasn’t considered an event. This was a market,” under Manitoba’s public-health orders, said acting deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal on Friday.

“When we look at these markets that are set up, they are set up as retail markets, so they do have capacity limits... but they are not events with, say, a concert — obviously those things can’t happen,” said Atwal at a media availability.

However, in a statement to the Free Press, a provincial spokeswoman referred to the market as an “event.”

“We can confirm that the event had worked with public-health officials before proceeding, with the clearly communicated expectation that public-health orders and measures must be followed and enforced by all participants at all times, including the travel order,” the spokeswoman stated.

Atwal acknowledged this might come across as a loophole under Manitoba’s pandemic protocols.

“We obviously look at the orders on a regular basis and it sounds like there might be some confusion here with some individuals, so we will look to see if we can provide some clarity in the future,” he said.

Third + Bird issued a late-day statement in which the organization’s founder, Chandra Kremski, announced out-of-province vendors would no longer proceed with the event. She Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Colorwould not disclose how many vendors will now be attending.

“Third + Bird has taken extended measures to be in compliance with the local health regulations, which includes reduced capacity, enhanced sanitation, pre-screening protocols, attendee contact tracing, and continued communication of expectations to all participants, including local health regulations,” Kremski said.

“With the support of Manitoba Public Health... (we) will continue with the remaining Manitoba businesses who have proven to be in compliance with all local regulations and market expectations.”

But many Manitoba vendors — at least 12 that the Free Press has confirmed — have pulled out of the market, citing deep anger and frustration with Third + Bird.

“It’s embarrassing, concerning and deeply idiotic that they’re going ahead with this, knowing full well how many people came from outside the province, and acting as if they didn’t know those people wouldn’t quarantine for 14 days for a two-and-a-half-day event,” said Lisa Pointon-Reico, who runs dconstruct jewelry at The Forks.

“I don’t think it’s safe for anyone to attend... it’s a COVID outbreak waiting to happen.”

“I sympathize with the makers who feel they have to do the show to continue their businesses,” said Lennard Taylor, a Winnipeg fashion designer. “I just felt we didn’t want to take the chance at putting anybody at risk by attending.”

On Friday afternoon, as vendors and organizers were setting up the market, about 100 cars and a dozen U-Haul trailers were being unloaded outside Exhibition Place. Near the entrance, six food trucks had set up.

Five organizers confirmed Friday night’s market would operate at a 30 per cent capacity (roughly 300 people), while Saturday and Sunday would be at 42 per cent capacity (just over 400 people).

No one without a ticket was allowed inside the sold-out event. Hand-sanitization stations had been set up and masks were for sale, organizers said.

A provincial spokeswoman said public-health officials might be in attendance at the market to ensure compliance with public-health orders.

“At this time, people are advised to stay home as much as possible to reduce the spread of variants of concern,” she said. “(But) things like farmers markets, craft shows and other alternative types of retail are allowed under the current orders, with capacity limits and public health safety measures in place.”

Temur Durrani, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press