Manitoba’s top doctor said companies shouldn’t rush to bring their employees back to the office — providing their business is functioning well from home.
Dr. Brent Roussin cautioned against a mass return to the office, during a virtual question-and-answer session Tuesday afternoon with hundreds of members of the business community.
“I would still encourage employers who’ve done well with virtual workplaces, virtual meetings, you know there’s no reason to necessarily go back unless that’s absolutely vital for the business,” Roussin said.
“If you can still have some employees working at home to reduce crowding, I would encourage you to do so.”
Roussin joined several government ministers — and briefly, the premier — for a conference call organized by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and Manitoba Chambers of Commerce. Questions were collected in advance from the hundreds of business leaders that registered.
Aside from Roussin’s brief foray into office dynamics, the discussion centred around the existing aid programs and steps to reopen the province’s borders.
Changes possible to $120-million business aid
Finance Minister Scott Fielding said the government may amend the $120-million fund for businesses that don’t qualify for federal government programs and wage subsidies.
“I think we would look at expanding” it, he said.
While Fielding noted almost 4,000 businesses applied, he acknowledged the federal government has addressed some of the gaps that initially made some Manitoba businesses ineligible for funding.
Under current terms, Manitoba businesses which apply for the provincial loan will have to pay the $6,000 back if they become eligible for the federal program.
A few speakers said Manitoba isn’t prepared to reopen provincial boundaries yet, while other jurisdictions record significantly higher numbers of COVID-19.
“Our greatest threat right now is not the social transmission, that community transmission, it’s the importation of the virus from outside of our borders,” Health Minister Cameron Friesen said.
Those restrictions come at a great cost to businesses that benefit from interprovincial travel, such as trade, tourism and the film industry.
Roussin said the province isn’t willing to bend on its demand that people entering the province from elsewhere observe 14 days of self-isolation. He said immediate testing at the border wouldn’t eliminate the need for self-isolation.
“A negative test anywhere in that 14-day period doesn’t rule out that you’re incubating the virus,” he said. “A negative test on a person who’s asymptomatic doesn’t eliminate the need for the 14-day self-isolation period.”
Fielding also said Manitoba may extend the time it gives employers to recall employees laid off due to COVID-19.
Under normal circumstances, employees laid off for eight or more weeks are entitled to wages in lieu of notice, but that practice has been on hold since March.
The finance minister also complimented the home renovation tax credit the federal Conservatives served in 2009 to spur spending during the last major recession. He suggested a Manitoba program could be forthcoming.
“It’s definitely an idea that I’m looking at,” Fielding said.
24-hour child care
On a question regarding child-care centres, Families Minister Heather Stefanson mused there may be a need for 24-hour care since some businesses move to split shifts to limit employee interaction.
And Ralph Eichler, minister of economic development and training, said the government is planning an advertising campaign in the coming weeks toward restarting the economy and encouraging Manitobans to explore their own province.
Premier Brian Pallister offered opening remarks at the conference call, but he said he had to leave to call Quebec Premier François Legault to offer his support for a proposed national program giving workers 10 paid sick days during the pandemic.
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