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Renewed calls for a regional approach to Manitoba COVID-19 restrictions

WINNIPEG — Some rural businesses are hoping for a break when the province’s current public health orders expire.

They’re hoping some restrictions can be eased in health regions with low COVID-19 case counts.

“You see people out and about right now, I’d love to have them come into the restaurant and be able to have something to eat,” said Melanie Specula, the owner of Chicken Chef in Gimli who also serves as co-president on the community’s chamber of commerce.

Province-wide restrictions don’t allow dining in restaurants, including in Gimli. Provincial data shows there are no active cases of COVID-19 in the community of around 2,200 people and lists 27 cases as recovered.

Specula hopes those numbers are considered ahead of the next round of COVID-19 restrictions.

“I mean in Gimli here, we’re doing well,” said Specula. “The people that are closed, they have mortgages and hydro bills, a lot of things to pay…rent and they have no business at all.”

The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce hopes the government reintroduces a regional approach, to gradually ease restrictions in areas with low caseloads.

“Specifically in rural Manitoba, you’re seeing some communities that have zero cases within their community and businesses are still closed,” said Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce. “So, that’s a real challenge for a lot of those small businesses.”

While daily case counts are low in some communities, experts warn lifting restrictions too soon, even on a regional basis could negate some of the efforts people have made to contain the spread of the virus.

“Unfortunately, we’re a highly interconnected society. We drive from community to community,” said Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist and founder of EPI Research Inc.

“In a week or two, there could be an escalation of cases that was already kind of percolating before that opening and then you’ve sort of allowed an opportunity for that virus to spread again.”

R.M. of Gimli Mayor Lynn Greenberg understands the concerns.

“It would be nice to get things open, you just can’t do it too soon,” said Greenberg. “We have to leave it up to the professionals.”

Public health officials didn’t rule out the idea but aren’t rushing to any conclusions.

“We’re continuing to look at the epidemiology of COVID in Manitoba, where the risk is,” said Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief provincial public health officer. “At this point, we’re still analyzing that data and determining what the next orders should look like.”

Specula hopes some businesses in Gimli will be given a break.

“I really think that they should be allowed open.”

The current public health orders expire on Jan. 22.           

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