Winnipeg beverage-room owners are toasting a last-minute decision that will allow them to keep their bars open, despite concerns by the province COVID-19 is being spread in the establishments.
On Monday evening, the province reversed a decision announced just 72 hours before that would have forced beverage rooms in the Winnipeg metropolitan region to close their doors for two weeks.
In a letter obtained by the Free Press, Manitoba Hotel Association (MHA) president and CEO Scott Jocelyn informed members that the province made an about-face on the closure of beverage rooms.
"Since the province announced on Friday that they would be closing beverage rooms, we have engaged in a campaign through government relations and the media to reverse that decision. We are glad to have been successful, but we are sorry about the stress and uncertainty you have had to endure," Jocelyn wrote.
By 9 p.m., the province provided a news release that stated: "Following further review, facilities licensed as beverage rooms under the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Control Act have not been closed under the order."
Casinos, entertainment facilities and bingo halls must still close for two weeks, the province said.
Ravi Ramberran, owner of The Four Crowns Inn on McPhillips Street, received the letter from the MHA and then had the pleasure of telling about 20 staff members they still had jobs.
"I was ecstatic, just so happy we get to continue on. The best part was calling staff — what an unbelievable feeling to be able to do that. That’s 20 families, and for me that really matters," Ramberran said Monday evening.
"They said the shutdown was for a couple of weeks but in my head I’m thinking there’s no way the COVID numbers are going down, so I already had my head wrapped around (the closure) being a month, maybe two months. I didn’t see a future there for us, to be honest with you."
Beverage rooms must comply with provincial restrictions, such as opening at 50 per cent capacity, allowing no more than five people per table, announcing last call for alcohol at 10 p.m. and all ensuring all patrons are gone by 11 p.m.
Gerald Lambert, president of the St. Norbert Hotel, said his Pembina Highway beverage room will continue to play by the rules.
"We just found out, so I don’t really know the rationale for the change. We’re just happy it happened," said Lambert. "We’re glad to be able to provide a safe environment for people to get away for a little while.
"It’s no easy task closing the bar for a couple of weeks. We laid a couple of staff off, we had to drain our draft (beer) lines and do some other things for this place to be closed. But we’re thrilled to do the work (Monday) night to be ready to open the doors at 10 a.m. Tuesday."
Earlier in the day, Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, admitted some businesses might get lost in the shuffle when health directives are created — a possible hint that a change was coming.
"This represents one of the challenges when you’re writing orders like this because there will always be those grey areas. But you can’t write legislation or orders or regulations really to account for that," said Roussin. "We’re working right now even to try to clarify that to see if we can come to a way to have these orders that will be in place to reflect some of those concerns."
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