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Owners and employees of businesses most affected by the initial round of COVID-19-related closures are reeling from the news heightened pandemic restrictions are on the horizon.
Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced tighter limits on Winnipeg businesses would be announced as early as Friday, due to "multiple examples of people just not following the fundamentals."
The province announced a record-high daily number of COVID-19 cases Thursday.
For industry members, "The sad part is that we did not receive any feedback from the government whatsoever," said Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of Manitoba Restaurants & Foodservices Association.
Since the onset of pandemic restrictions in the spring, some local restaurants have shown as much as 90 per cent revenue loss, Jeffrey said.
"(The government needs) to be aware of what the consequences to our industry will be," he said. "When you start talking about additional restrictions on our industry — there are no other restrictions."
Between 40 and 60 per cent of staff, representing roughly 15,000 employees, were laid off in the wake of the initial clampdown on restaurants, he said, adding the association is hoping for further help from both the federal and provincial levels.
"It’s on the backs of business that Manitobans are being kept safe," Jeffrey said. "The reality is that if the plan is to shut down business, they need to do what other provinces have done and come with a subsidy program… They need to come to the table with sector-specific subsidies and assistance."
The news of looming measures left Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer Loren Remillard feeling "deflated, but not surprised."
"Deflated because business, right from Day 1, has done an exceptional job leading the way, in terms of helping to flatten the first wave’s curve with voluntarily closing their doors, having their staff work from home, purchasing PPE supplies — really going above and beyond the requirements of the public health orders," he said.
Many owners in the province are asking themselves if they will be able to survive a second clampdown, after some had seen business returning in the time before the most recent surge in COVID-19 cases, Remillard said.
"They bore all these costs at a time where their revenues were declining, or for some, just completely evaporating, and just recently, prior to this recent surge, there were glimmers of hope that we were reopening the economy… and now we see the potential of new restrictions that will set those businesses back again."
Remillard said he couldn’t speculate how severe the looming restrictions would be, but another full lockdown would be "catastrophic" for locally-owned businesses.
"I think the lesson we learned from the first wave, when it did go to a full lockdown, is no government, no community, no economy can afford to see a repeat of that," he said.
Local businesses can do their part by controlling what they’re able to, and customers, as the holiday season approaches, should be working to buy local whenever possible, Remillard said.
"This is your opportunity — we’ve heard a lot about shopping local and the importance of it," he said.
"If new restrictions come in place that make it even more challenging for consumers to visit brick-and-mortar (shops), please make sure you’re searching for local businesses and spending your dollars locally. Because, at the end of the day, it’s the local business community that defines the character of our community."
— with files from Julia-Simone Rutgers
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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