‘Something had to be done’: Early closures, noise rules coming for Winnipeg-area bars and restaurants

People going to restaurants and bars in the Winnipeg area will see new rules in effect starting Wednesday evening, including cutoff times for liquor and dine-in service and a requirement to leave contact information with staff.

Under those restrictions, liquor service will need to stop between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m., and dine-in service will have to end at 11 p.m.

At that point, staff will need to make sure everyone leaves the building, but restaurants can still stay open for delivery and takeout after that, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference on Monday. 

Dine-in will be allowed to resume at 6 a.m.

“These types of restrictions have big impacts on businesses,” Roussin said. “So I think that it’s certainly a challenge for the sectors, but I think most people wanted to be part of the solution and were acknowledging that something had to be done.”

Staff will also need to collect contact information in writing from at least one person at every table. They’ll have to hold onto that information for 21 days, in case it’s needed for contact tracing, then destroy it immediately.

The new restrictions came after the province consulted with people in the industry about what kind of changes could help stem the spread of COVID-19 in those settings, which health officials have said have been linked to an increasing number of new cases in recent weeks.

The new restrictions were announced one week after the city and 17 surrounding communities were upgraded to the orange, or “restricted,” level under the province’s pandemic response system.

That followed increasing cases in Winnipeg, where the test positivity rate was three per cent as of Monday, Roussin said.

Noise limits coming

The changes coming on Wednesday also include rules for physical distancing: people from different groups need to be separated by at least two metres or a physical barrier when seated, and they need to have enough room to maintain that separation when not seated, Roussin said.

Patrons will only be allowed to get up to use the washroom, to briefly interact with staff when arriving or leaving or to use games where they can maintain distancing, like VLTs and certain arcade games. Games where people need to stand — like pool and darts — are not allowed, he said.

There will also be a maximum of 10 people allowed at a table, though staff won’t have to check whether people eating together are from the same household, Roussin said.

“We haven’t put a burden on them to figure out who lives together,” he said.

People will be assigned a table when they enter, as long as there are enough seats for their whole party, and will not be allowed to move chairs or tables around.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, announced the incoming rules for restaurants and bars at a news conference on Monday afternoon. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

There will be no dancing, buffet-style food, hookah or other water pipes allowed in bars and restaurants in the region, Roussin said. The rules for liquor sales do not apply to retail stores, he said.

People may also soon notice their nights out becoming a little quieter. The province is working to come up with a maximum volume level allowed in restaurants and bars in the Winnipeg area.

“We see that loud places means louder talking, closer talking, so [that] just puts a bit [of an] increased risk,” Roussin said. He added that officials are working on coming up with a specific maximum decibel number allowed in restaurants and bars, which people will be able to measure with free apps on most smartphones.

“We want to be as objective as we can, so people know exactly what they need to do.”

Just like any other public health orders, businesses can be fined for violations. But Roussin said the province will continue focusing on education and support before resorting to punishment.

“I think that if an inspector came in and it was above the decibel limit, within reason, the advice would be that you’re exceeding it and need to put in measures to reduce it,” he said.

Roussin said he plans to sign the order mandating the new rules around noon on Wednesday, and expects they’ll be in effect for 6 p.m. that evening.

The restrictions will stay in place as long as the Winnipeg area stays at the restricted level, which he previously said would be for at least four weeks — or until Oct. 26 at the earliest.

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