Excitement in business sector tempered by communication failures as reopening looms



Businesses and municipal services are struggling to keep up with the easing of public health restrictions, as Manitoba begins the next phase of its plan to reopen in the event of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ray Louie, co-owner of Gates on Roblin restaurant and event venue west of Winnipeg, said he was frustrated with the province’s communication.

“I just want clarity,” he said on Friday. “I don’t want to break the law. I want to maintain a safe operating environment for my staff and I want to organize safe events, so they don’t arrest us again.”

In the days following the announcement of new public health orders on Wednesday (coming into effect on Saturday), Gates was inundated with calls from people wanting to increase their guest numbers or book new events. Maximum capacities for outdoor weddings will increase from 25 to 150 people.

Gates would normally employ 75 people at this time of year, Louie said, but he was reduced to 15 during the pandemic.

“I don’t know of any company that can go down to 600% on two days’ notice,” he said.

Louie said the province needs to step up its public education campaigns, citing a slew of calls to book events beyond new capacity on Saturday.

RUTH BONNEVILLE

Amanda Douglas, wedding planner and owner of Amanda Douglas Events in Winnipeg, has had a busy few days dealing with the changing restrictions and the number of people allowed at weddings. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I got a call from a guy, and he wanted to book an event, and I said I’m at full capacity right now. I can’t book another group that day he wanted . He called me an idiot and hung upstairs. ”

Despite all the troubles, Louie said he still felt “euphoric” as he prepared for a busier season.

Amanda Douglas, wedding planner and owner of Amanda Douglas Events in Winnipeg, said it’s been a crazy few days.

“The two weddings I have this weekend are very excited… The sellers are all very happy, but some are a little confused,” she said.

Douglas said communication from the province could be clearer, and for a planner like her, the back and forth of restrictions during the pandemic have made her job “100% more difficult.”

Cinemas are also preparing to reopen on Saturday. Only fully immunized moviegoers will be able to enjoy the big screen, up to 50 percent of a movie theater’s capacity, depending on the province.

“Everyone is thrilled,” said Kevin Matthews, director of operations for Manitoba and Ontario at Cineplex Inc.

The Toronto-based company has been waiting for the green light for months, so when the announcement was made on Wednesday, Cineplex was ready, he said.


Dorota Blumczynska, executive director of the Manitoba Museum, said the facility would wait until Aug. 5 to open with its own more conservative guidelines.  (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

RUTH BONNEVILLE

Dorota Blumczynska, executive director of the Manitoba Museum, said the facility would wait until Aug. 5 to open with its own more conservative guidelines. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Matthews would also have liked better communication from the province: “It certainly could have been helpful to have more notice. ”

Cineplex theaters will have a wide range of COVID-19 precautions in place, including an automatic seat reservation algorithm that will prevent people from sitting too close to each other, he said. Its theaters have better ventilation and standard COVID-19 clean-up measures will be in place.

A new challenge for theater staff will be verifying Manitoba patrons’ proof of immunization card. Matthews did not reveal details, but said the company spent a lot of time discussing how to make sure staff were checking cards and feeling comfortable doing so.

Many places allowed to reopen on Saturday have chosen not to do so.

The City of Winnipeg Libraries, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Manitoba Museum, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Centennial Concert Hall and the casinos operated by Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp. all give the green light.

Many said they needed more time to prepare for a safe opening.

Dorota Blumczynska, executive director of the Manitoba Museum, said the Winnipeg facility has decided to set its own more conservative guidelines for the August 5 reopening.

“We’re really in this for the long haul,” she said. “A few more weeks just means we’re going to be a lot more ready.”

Municipal libraries will open on July 26; GAF August 14; Centennial Concert Hall for its fall season.

A spokesperson for MLL said the date for its casinos to open will come next week. The independently operated South Beach Casino (Scanterbury) and Sand Hills Casino (Carberry) will open on Saturday.

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