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Business sector struggles with speed of Manitoba plan

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The Pallister government's plan to restart the Manitoba economy appears to have involved little consultation with the business sector, which is now left confused and scrambling to reopen doors as early as Monday.

"It was kind of a broadside, with little to no communication with the government," Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Food Services Association, said Thursday.

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"It was kind of a broadside, with little to no communication with the government," Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Food Services Association, said Thursday.

"It was kind of a broadside, with little to no communication with the government," Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Food Services Association, said Thursday. "I find it very disheartening. We would've liked to consult on how this happens."

Premier Brian Pallister announced Wednesday outdoor patios, museums, libraries, hair salons, dental clinics and most retail businesses were among those that can reopen May 4 (along with playgrounds, golf courses, tennis courts and campgrounds) amid novel coronavirus restrictions.

Giving the green light to a broad reopening in just five days stunned many in the business community, which had worked closely with the province — including providing feedback on different measures — in the run-up to closures ordered March 20.

"That's the weird part," Jeffrey said on the lack of consultation on reopening plan. "This is the biggest aspect of this since it started — we would've expected engagement would be very prevalent with this."

There are "a lot of gaps" in the guidelines the province has posted that they could've helped fill in, he said, adding restaurants are now left scrambling to decide if it's even feasible to reopen under the restrictions that remain.

'Monumental task'

Outbreaks at personal care homes have accounted for close to 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada. There has not been an outbreak at a personal care home in Manitoba, where visits were suspended March 17; staff have been screened for symptoms since April 1.

A public health order announced Thursday aims to further lower the risk of a home worker transmitting the virus: as of May 1, employees at the 127 licensed care homes in Manitoba can no longer work at more than one site.

Outbreaks at personal care homes have accounted for close to 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada. There has not been an outbreak at a personal care home in Manitoba, where visits were suspended March 17; staff have been screened for symptoms since April 1.

A public health order announced Thursday aims to further lower the risk of a home worker transmitting the virus: as of May 1, employees at the 127 licensed care homes in Manitoba can no longer work at more than one site.

Many health-care workers rely on part-time jobs at more than one personal care home to make ends meet.

Care home operators and regional health authorities came up with a staffing plan for 121 facilities, and Shared Health chief of nursing Lanette Siragusa said she expected the remaining six would be able to address their challenges by Friday.

"This has been a monumental task to plan," Siragusa said.

Other provinces released their plans with more notice.

Saskatchewan announced April 23 medical services, such as dentistry, and some activities, such as camping, could resume May 4, with retail businesses and personal services (such as barbers) not allowed to reopen until May 19.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford released a reopening plan with no dates, but 65 safety guidelines for businesses, including office spaces, restaurants, and the auto industry.

However, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer said there was considerable engagement with the business community throughout, including discussions on whether more lead-up time was required.

"But it also came up just as strongly, if not stronger, that every day counts," Dr. Brent Roussin said. "So, some businesses felt the soonest they could open up, the better for them. That's what we came up with."

Roussin stressed businesses are not required to open, and if they need more answers, they should consult the provincial government website for guidance.

Dr. Brent Roussin stressed businesses are not required to open, and if they need more answers, they should consult the provincial government website for guidance.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dr. Brent Roussin stressed businesses are not required to open, and if they need more answers, they should consult the provincial government website for guidance.

"It's an easing of restrictions, not a directive. But there's been engagement all along," he said at his daily media briefing.

The speed of the government plan has other businesses feeling left behind.

According to the Retail Council of Canada, Manitoba has 4,755 retail businesses — Public General Store is one that has made the decision to keep its doors shut Monday.

"It's not necessarily that we can't open," co-owner Olena Kozel said Thursday. "We want a little more time to make sure on health and safety.

"We want to make sure everything is in place. Sanitization is a big issue, and we have to have social distancing in place," she said of the Winnipeg home goods business, which remains open for online/curbside shoppers.

"How do you expect people to, all of a sudden, in a matter of days, feel safe and comfortable?... It's easy to lock the doors — it's more daunting to open the doors."

Olena Kozel (left), with Erin Ahl, has made the decision that Public General Store will keep its doors shut Monday.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / FREE PRESS FILES

Olena Kozel (left), with Erin Ahl, has made the decision that Public General Store will keep its doors shut Monday.

It is a stance Josh Alderson, co-owner of Vantage Vintage Boutique in Winnipeg, understands. The doors to its bricks-and-mortar location, too, will continue to be closed, instead relying on online traffic.

"Right now, we want to see what pans out over the next while," he said. "We'll wait until we're absolutely sure.

MLAs return

Manitoba MLAs are expected to return to the house May 6.

A spokesman for government house leader Kelvin Goertzen said the legislature will reconvene Wednesdays in May, and expects one sitting day per week.

Schedule-wise, it will be a normal Wednesday with routine proceedings, including question period at 1:30 p.m. and debate on government business in the afternoon, the Tory MLA said Thursday.

Manitoba MLAs are expected to return to the house May 6.

A spokesman for government house leader Kelvin Goertzen said the legislature will reconvene Wednesdays in May, and expects one sitting day per week.

Schedule-wise, it will be a normal Wednesday with routine proceedings, including question period at 1:30 p.m. and debate on government business in the afternoon, the Tory MLA said Thursday.

In terms of the physical set-up, social-distancing measures in the chamber will be based on requirements of public health orders at the time the house meets. A reduced number of members can participate at any given time, but the details are still being worked out, officials said.

The house last sat April 15, for an emergency one-day session to pass legislation needed to fund the province's COVID-19 response. The last regular session of the legislature adjourned indefinitely March 19.

"We don't want to be responsible for getting anyone sick or putting anyone at risk."

On Thursday, two new COVID-19 cases were reported, bringing Manitoba's total to 275 — with six deaths, five hospitalized and none in intensive care.

Manitoba has continued to flatten its COVID-19 curve with two or less new cases a day for more than two weeks.

There are other signs it's time to start lifting restrictions, health officials said, including the availability of hospital beds and ventilators, if needed.

Emergency room and urgent care visits are down dramatically; elective surgeries, on hold since March, are resuming.

The province has opened up COVID-19 testing to all Manitobans with flu-like symptoms, and is increasing testing capacity to 3,000 nasal swabs per day, in case of an outbreak.

Restaurants are now left scrambling to decide if it's even feasible to reopen under the restrictions that remain.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Restaurants are now left scrambling to decide if it's even feasible to reopen under the restrictions that remain.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

   Read full biography

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