September 30, 2020

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Tourists welcome, but only after COVID-19 screening

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By definition, tourist attractions are not in the business of turning away tourists. But the pandemic has forced some popular Winnipeg destinations to introduce screening measures that are compulsory, even when it means denying entry to would-be guests.

Face masks will be mandatory inside the Winnipeg Art Gallery beginning Tuesday for all staff and visitors. Also, people are asked COVID-19 screening questions upon arrival, and everyone arriving for meetings has their temperature checked.

Linjie Huang (left) and her mom, Xuelian Zhang, look at art at the WAG. Even though they've lived in Winnipeg for two years, this was their first visit to the gallery. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Linjie Huang (left) and her mom, Xuelian Zhang, look at art at the WAG. Even though they've lived in Winnipeg for two years, this was their first visit to the gallery. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The aim is to make the art gallery "a safe space for the community to find inspiration during this challenging time," said WAG spokesperson Amber O’Reilly. She said the WAG hasn’t experienced pushback from patrons who resent the questions and safety measures.

"I think that visitors in recent weeks have just been super happy to have a place to look at art and to have a relaxing time with their families, or in a socially-distanced hang-out with friends," she said.

Not everyone has been so happy with pandemic precautions.

Employees at the St. Boniface historic site Fort Gibraltar were forced to turn away a couple from Quebec last weekend. When Fort staff asked a set of screening questions, the couple revealed they had not self-quarantined for 14 days. They were denied entry.

"The two guests were very surprised, I think they got angry because they had been looking forward to visiting the Fort, and there was a little bit of a vocal dispute," said Fort spokesperson Nicolas Audette.

The miffed couple told Fort Gibraltar staff they had learned their lesson, and would lie the next time staff at a Winnipeg attraction asked if they had isolated, Audette said.

The Fort was following the rules, knowing that visitors from Quebec, east and south Ontario and Atlantic Canada are all required to self-isolate for two weeks as per phase four of Manitoba's reopening guidelines.

Fort Gibraltar, which reopened to the public July 21, is also considering mandating masks for all employees.

Signs encouraging social distancing at the WAG. The gallery hasn’t experienced pushback from patrons who resent the questions and safety measures. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Signs encouraging social distancing at the WAG. The gallery hasn’t experienced pushback from patrons who resent the questions and safety measures. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

At the Manitoba Museum, the pandemic has closed some of the biggest attractions, including interactive high-touch experiences. One of the biggest draws to the museum, a replica ship of the 17th-century Nonsuch, has been closed to visitors because sanitation requirements would cause potential damage to the ship.

"We know that people are disappointed they can’t go on the ship, and we know that people want to open the drawers and push the buttons to have that more interactive experience, but they know it’s just not reasonable right now," museum spokesperson Jody Tresoor said.

Museum staff greet visitors and asks screening questions before letting them purchase tickets, though visitors are encouraged to buy their ticket online beforehand.

Tresoor said it was "disappointing" to hear that Fort Gibraltar had to turn away visitors, but the museum had not had the same experience since its staggered opening in June.

"It’s not been a regular summer attendance, just like so many other attractions in the province, in the country, probably the world — but our customers are thrilled to be coming back, and they’re behaving appropriately," she said.

Should the screening questions reveal visitors from areas outside phase four regulations had not self-quarantined, they would be asked to leave the museum and return once they had, she said.

The Assiniboine Park Zoo has no screening process on-site for arriving visitors, and hasn’t since they re-opened their doors in May. Rather, they request visitors self-screen online before attending.

This decision was made due to the high volume of visitors the zoo sees in the summer months, even during COVID-19 restrictions, said Assiniboine Park Conservancy spokesperson Laura Cabak.

"A stop-and-ask-questions process would just be not conducive to visitor flow," she said.

“We’ve really focused on things like signage, cleaning, encouraging physical distancing, capacity management within the indoor places at the zoo.” ‐ Assiniboine Park Conservancy spokesperson Laura Cabak on the zoo's decision to request visitors self-screen online before attending.

Cabak said it’s difficult to compare the zoo and its visitor management process to other tourist destinations, in part because almost all attractions are outdoors.

"We’ve really focused on things like signage, cleaning, encouraging physical distancing, capacity management within the indoor places at the zoo," Cabak said.

Visitation under the current circumstances has still been relatively strong, Cabak said, and people have been respectful of the rules overall. She said there hasn’t been a situation where someone has been asked to leave due to COVID-19 related concerns, but did not rule out the possibility in the future.

"Is there a circumstance? Possibly, and then I think we would just have to deal with it on a case-by-case basis," she said.

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: malakabas_

Malak Abas

Malak Abas
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Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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