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Lockdown nightmare

·4 min read

Sabrina Cornwell woke up from a familiar nightmare this week, sweating that her feverish dream could again become reality.

It’s the kind of bad dream she’s had before. Only this time, even as she finds herself preparing for it earlier, Cornwell’s not sure she will survive the pandemic-related odds stacked against her.

“As a hairdresser, and a mother of three kids to feed, this will be the third time I’ll be asked to shut down,” said Cornwell on Tuesday, who rents a chair at Hairplay Salon in Winnipeg.

“I have a pit in my stomach just thinking about it,” she added. “The only option I have is to quickly get my ducks in a row by being ready to move around all my appointments. I’m just paying off what I can so I don’t rack up on further bills. It’s completely heartbreaking and infuriating.”

Many business owners and workers told the Free Press they’re feeling a similar sense of dread and apprehension, as the province prepares to battle a growing third wave of COVID-19.

Manitoba’s top doctor warned Monday that outdoor mask requirements and smaller gathering sizes could be on the way, given a rise of the highly infectious B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant and its impact on the health-care system.

However, the provincial government and public health officials remain mum about much else, especially when it comes to the new restrictions businesses can expect to be announced later this week.

Commerce stakeholders and advocates are now pressing the government to be mindful about tightening pandemic protocols. They are asking for evidence-based restrictions instead of complete closures or shutdowns, and for emergency support to be announced along with the new orders.

“The very second sentence after any restrictions being announced should be about direct aid packages for those businesses that are impacted,” said Loren Remillard, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

“But the fact is, what needs to happen more than going back to shutdowns and closures, is that the government needs to show greater urgency around vaccinations. The supply-issue argument that Manitoba is apparently contending with doesn’t seem to be an issue in slowing down many other provinces. And really, vaccines are what will be the saving grace with this third wave.”

Remillard believes a “full-blown lockdown would be catastrophic for businesses, right now and for posterity.” He said the province should look towards scaling down capacity limits before taking that approach.

“If the idea is to curb the spread of transmission, take that targeted approach. But don’t just start targeting the same people you did before,” he said. “And if you do want to close businesses again, show the evidence that says you have to — you know, where is the data for restaurants or retailers causing transmission?”

Jonathan Alward, Manitoba director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, agreed. “Personally, I’d like to see the budgeted funding from the province for COVID costs to be used immediately for a grant,” he said.

“Right now, inspectors are already knocking from door to door at businesses, checking every day if they’re following rules. Frankly, if they caused any rising cases, you’d know. It’s all coming from indoor gatherings and not from businesses.”

Shaun Jeffrey, executive director for the Manitoba Restaurant & Foodservices Association, said restrictions for diners are already debilitating. “How much further could you go beyond these rules that are already crushing them?” he said Tuesday.

Roula Alevizos, who manages Saddlery on Market at the Exchange District in Winnipeg, said it’s frustrating not knowing what comes next for her eatery.

“I’ve had to lay everybody off, it’s minimal staff already and honestly, I just don’t see how or why they could limit us any more than these confusing restrictions about household-only customers,” she said.

“I go to Costco, I go to Superstore and I see how they don’t have to worry about a damn thing anymore. Meanwhile, I can barely have a quarter of my capacity because my precautions need to work differently somehow. It’s just ridiculous.”

Aubrey Margolis, who runs Danali clothing store in south Winnipeg, said that’s something his retail outlet can relate to.

“I mean, of course, I want to do what’s best to curb this health crisis. But it’s definitely easier to escape any rules as a mall outlet or large store,” he said. “We went online and tried to get our income from there, and honestly, it’s barely half of what we’d make otherwise.”

Dino Camiré, owner of One Family Fitness, and Manitoba’s representative on the Fitness Industry Council of Canada, said gyms have been unfairly targeted during earlier closures.

“Closing us without guaranteeing complete and rapid vaccination isn’t going to be very well-received,” he said, adding schools and factories must also be restricted instead of just storefronts.

In a statement Tuesday, a provincial spokeswoman could not provide details about the upcoming restrictions for businesses or emergency support.

“More will be announced in the coming days,” she said.

Temur Durrani, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press