Businesses and city services are struggling to keep up with loosening public health restrictions, as Manitoba embarks on the next step of its COVID-19 pandemic reopening plan.
Ray Louie, co-owner of restaurant and event venue Gates on Roblin, west of Winnipeg, said he’s frustrated with the province’s communication.
"I just want clarity," he said Friday. "I don’t want to break the law. I want to maintain a safe operating environment for my staff and I want to run safe events, so that they don’t shut us down again."
In the days since new public health orders were announced Wednesday (coming into effect Saturday), Gates has been flooded with calls from people wanting to increase thier guest numbers or book new events. Maximum capacities for outdoor weddings will increase from 25 to 150 people.
Gates would normally employ 75 people at this time of the year, Louie said, but it was downsized to 15 during the pandemic.
"I don’t know of any business that can flex 600 per cent in two days’ notice," he said.
Louie said the province needs to ramp up its public education campaigns, citing a slew of calls to book events exceeding Saturday’s new capacities.
"I took a call from a fellow, and he wanted to book an event, and I said: I’m at capacity right now. I can’t book another group on that day that he wanted. He called me an idiot and hung up."
For all the trouble, Louie said he’s still feeling "euphoric" as he gears up for a busier season.
Amanda Douglas, wedding planner and owner of Amanda Douglas Events in Winnipeg, said it’s been a crazy few days.
"The two weddings I have this weekend are very excited… Vendors are all very happy, but some are a little bit confused," she said.
Douglas said communication from the province could be clearer, and for a planner like herself, the back and forth of restrictions during the pandemic has made her job "100 per cent harder."
Movie theatres are preparing to reopen Saturday, too. Only fully vaccinated movie goers will get to enjoy the big screen, up to 50 per cent of a theatre’s capacity, the province says.
"Everybody is elated," said Kevin Matthews, director of operations for Manitoba and Ontario at Cineplex Inc.
The Toronto-based company has been waiting for the go-ahead for months, so when the announcement came Wednesday, Cineplex was ready, he said.
Matthews, too, would’ve liked better communication from the province: "It certainly could have been helpful to have more notice."
Cineplex movie theatres will have a wide range of COVID-19 precautions in place, including an automatic seat-booking algorithm that will prevent people from sitting too close to one another, he said. Its theatres have improved ventilation, and standard COVID-19 cleaning measures will be in place.
One new challenge for movie theatre staff will be checking customers’ Manitoba proof-of-immunization card. Matthews didn’t reveal details but said the company has spent lots of time discussing how to ensure staff are checking cards and are comfortable doing so.
Many places allowed to reopen Saturday have chosen not to.
City of Winnipeg libraries, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba Museum, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Centennial Concert Hall and Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp.-run casinos are all passing up the green light.
Many said they need more time to prepare a safe opening.
Dorota Blumczynska, chief executive officer of Manitoba Museum, said the Winnipeg facility has decided to set its own, more conservative guidelines on reopening Aug. 5.
"We’re really in this for the long haul," she said. "Another couple weeks just means that we’re going to be that much more ready."
City libraries are to open July 26; WAG on Aug. 14; Centennial Concert Hall for its fall season.
An MLL spokesperson said an opening date for its casinos will come next week. South Beach Casino (Scanterbury) and Sand Hills Casino (Carberry), which are independently run, will be open Saturday.
Cody Sellar is the reporter/photographer for The Times. He is a lifelong Winnipegger. He is a journalist, writer, sleuth, sloth, reader of books and lover of terse biographies.