Coronavirus: Manitoba business advocates propose ‘sweet spot’ reopening strategy

Manitoba’s coronavirus pandemic public health order is less than a week away from expiring, and business advocates are hoping some of their members will be able to open their doors for the first time in months next weekend.

Loren Remillard of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce says walking the tightrope between public health and economic prosperity is possible, amid lowering cases of COVID-19 in the province.

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“We feel there’s an opportunity to allow a limited capacity reopening of business to 20 per cent,” he tells 680 CJOB. “We feel that’s a ‘sweet spot’ whereby you can allow businesses to resume, but minimize the amount of (virus) transmission that could happen.”

For some businesses, the proposed move would bring an end to weeks of waiting on pins and needles for word on when restrictions could loosen.

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The public health orders, which include the closure of non-essential businesses and a ban on most social gatherings in homes, have been in effect province-wide since November, and have since been extended twice.

“We need to get the economy opened. No one is advocating for that to be done irresponsibly, or putting public health at risk,” Remillard says.

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Remillard and counterpart Chuck Davidson of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce say a third shutdown would be a deadly blow to Manitoba businesses, so the province’s next reopening strategy needs to be it’s last.

“I think from a restaurant perspective, (capacity) would have to be a bit higher than that 20 per cent mark, we’d be pushing for 50 (per cent),” Davidson explains.

“That may mean restaurants won’t be part of the first part of [reopening],” he added. “Start small. Let’s get retail open, let people be allowed to get haircuts. Some of those things are going to be critical for starting to rebuild the economy.”

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While the deployment of vaccines is welcome news for businesses eager to reopen their doors, Manitoba’s distribution strategy hit a snag on Friday — when the province said it’s going to pause new appointment bookings following an announcement of Pfizer vaccine production delays.

Read more: Coronavirus: New vaccine appointments paused in Manitoba as Pfizer announces delay

The province is currently collecting feedback from Manitobans on what they think the safest way to reopen is, using an online survey.

Remillard says while it’s a valuable tool in gauging the confidence of consumers, he believes the final decisions will be made by health officials, and won’t be influenced by the results.

“You can open the door to a business, but we need to make sure Manitobans are comfortable being on the other side when those doors open,” he explains. “There’s value in taking a ‘temperature read’ on where consumer confidence is.”

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When the province announced the loosening of restrictions from the first lockdown last spring, it typically gave businesses time to prepare over the weekend.

Davidson says every day is essential to businesses this time around and hopes a decision is announced early next week.

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“The best-case scenario is if businesses get a couple of days to prepare for this. The numbers are heading in the right direction, and retailers and personal services feel they could do this safely.”

“My hope is with this, we can reopen some parts of our economy next week, we’ll continue to see if those numbers continue to trend in the right direction, and ramp up as we keep going forward.”

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