No masks, no vax proof… no problem Diners wait up to half-hour for lunch table at two Winkler restaurants ignoring pandemic health rules
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/02/2022 (290 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WINKLER — Things were hopping Wednesday afternoon at Twister’s, a 1950s-style diner in this southern Manitoba town.
It was packed; people waited as long as a half-hour for a table during the lunch rush.
It looked a lot different there than it does in most public places in the province: save for one server, no one — customers or staff — was wearing a mask. And no one was asked to show proof of vaccination before being seated.
At nearby Del Rios, a family-style restaurant serving Mexican and Mennonite fare, it was gridlock in the lot as customers waited for someone to leave in order to snag their parking spot. Inside, it was much like Twister’s; no masks, no proof of vaccination required.
The business boom may be, in part, a result of social media posts encouraging area residents to patronize both restaurants because their owners have decided to ignore public-health restrictions.
Karl Krebs, a local vaccination opponent who keeps track of businesses in Winkler that choose not to follow health orders, has hundreds of likes, shares and comments on his Facebook posts.
The lone masked Twister’s server initially agreed to speak with the Free Press, but changed her mind after speaking with her boss, who also refused to answer questions.
An owner at Del Rios called the social media posts “rumours,” referenced the vaccination card scanner in the restaurant and refused to comment further.
Therese and Pete, a couple eating at Twister’s who asked that their last names not be published, said dining there felt like a return to normal.
“I think everybody’s just done with the pandemic and wants to get back to life,” Pete said.
“I think everybody’s just done with the pandemic and wants to get back to life.” – Pete, customer
“It was kind of a relief,” Therese added.
They represent what they said is a popular opinion in Winkler: they respect the right to choose to — both said they are vaccinated — but they’re weary of the restrictions affecting their lives.
Some patrons were wary of outside attention. One family followed a Free Press photographer to his vehicle outside Del Rios and made derogatory remarks while they videotaped the confrontation, accusing him of “tattling.”
“You’re taking away our rights!” one woman shouted.
There didn’t appear to be anyone attempting to enforce provincial orders at either establishment Wednesday. Winkler police Chief Ryan Hunt didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Many of the vehicles packed into Twister’s parking lot displayed signs and stickers indicating support for anti-vaccination protesters and the “freedom convoy” blockades in place across Canada, including downtown Winnipeg.
Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the province is aware of concerns that public-health rules are being ignored to a greater extent, particularly since the convoy protests began more than a week ago. He called it a reflection of “where society is at with the pandemic overall.”
“We’ve certainly heard that from those who are involved with enforcing the orders, that it’s gotten more aggressive,” he said. “And so that, obviously, is concerning.”
Goertzen acknowledged there had been issues with enforcement across the province but it had “done its best” trying to recruit officers, noting about 1,800 public-health inspections occur each week.
Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen acknowledged there had been issues with enforcement across the province but it had “done its best” trying to recruit officers, noting about 1,800 public-health inspections occur each week.
“If people are willfully choosing not to follow the public-health orders, that does create those challenges,” he said. “I think we’re asking for patience from people, we know this is a difficult time.”
One truck driver, whose vehicle was adorned with a giant Canada flag, a sign reading “Mandate Freedom” with lights around it, and several stickers expressing the same sentiment said he wasn’t comfortable expressing his opinion about the situation to the Free Press, concerned his words would be misconstrued.
In September, the Free Press patronized a dozen Winkler restaurants, including Del Rios and Twister’s, and were never asked to show proof of vaccination or put on a mask.
Public-health restrictions “don’t really get followed” in Winkler, a 16 year old boy told the Free Press before walking into Del Rios for lunch with his grandparents. He and his friends are ready to move on with their lives, and most people he knows feel the same way, he said.
“We’re starting to get some momentum now with some of the rules changing in other places,” he said. “Hopefully stuff starts changing around here soon for real.”
He said people are excited to patronize businesses where they can avoid restrictions.
“It’s been very positive for the last few days, few weeks even, compared to the last couple years — it’s been pretty miserable around here,” he said. “It’s been great.”
— With files from Carol Sanders
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, February 9, 2022 8:52 PM CST: Updates photo captions.
Updated on Wednesday, February 9, 2022 9:57 PM CST: Removes errant parenthesis.