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Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister puts on a mask after speaking to media before the throne speech at the legislature in Winnipeg on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. The government is offering to help restaurants pay for delivery costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister puts on a mask after speaking to media before the throne speech at the legislature in Winnipeg on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. The government is offering to help restaurants pay for delivery costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government on Tuesday offered financial aid to restaurants as the province's COVID-19 case count continued to drop.

The province said it will give $5 million to the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce to design a rebate for restaurants that have been forced to close their dining rooms under public health orders. The rebate is meant to help restaurants offset the cost of delivering food themselves or through a third-party service such as Skip The Dishes.

"This program will rebate restaurants that are considered to be primarily dine-in, and who have shifted to a delivery model," Premier Brian Pallister said. He estimated the aid program would work out to a few thousand dollars for each restaurant.

The relief was welcomed by the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

Restaurants can pay fees of up to 30 per cent for third-party delivery services. The Ontario government introduced a bill last month to cap such fees at 15 per cent in regions where sit-down dining is prohibited. In-person dining has been banned across Manitoba since last month.

Pallister left the door open to more aid if restrictions are extended beyond the current Jan. 8 expiry date.

Manitoba's daily count of new COVID-19 cases has started to drop in recent days, but intensive care units are still running above their normal capacity and many elective surgeries continue to be cancelled.

Health officials reported 155 new cases Tuesday and 18 deaths. It was the second consecutive day that new cases were below 200 — a number that had not been seen for several weeks.

A top health official urged Manitobans to continue to follow public health orders that ban most social visits inside private homes, even over the holidays.

"We need people to stay at home. We need people not to interact," said Dr. Jazz Atwal, the province's acting deputy chief public health officer.

The province has been stepping up enforcement of its health orders. Officers handed out 62 tickets in the seven-day period that ended Sunday. Thirty-five of those were issued to people accused of breaking the ban on social gatherings in private homes, the government said in a release.

"We have public health orders and we expect people to abide by them, and that's how we're going to protect each other," Pallister said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2020