‘This is a serious virus’: How employees are feeling as Manitoba prepares to ease COVID-19 restrictions

By | May 1, 2020

WINNIPEG — Slowly restarting the economy in Manitoba means some employees returning to work next week are wondering what measures will be in place to keep them safe.

Restaurant patios, retail stores and hair salons are among the businesses that have the option of reopening.

Server Christina Tennis has been helping hold down the fort at Colosseo restaurant on Corydon. With the dining room closed to customers amid COVID-19, she’s been keeping busy cleaning and helping with takeout and delivery orders.

“It’s been slow, but it’s going and I have to be grateful — I have a job still,” she said.

With the daily number of new cases low, few Manitobans hospitalized and active cases outnumbered by those who have recovered, the province has decided to start easing some COVID-19 restrictions.

However, Manitobans are still being encouraged by public health officials to stay home as much as possible and continue to practice physical distancing even as some public health measures are loosened.

Starting May 4, patios will be allowed to open to 50 per cent of normal capacity, meaning Tennis’s job is about to get busier – and she’s okay with it.

“This is a serious virus, but being in the industry, it’s all part of the job and if I didn’t feel safe…I wouldn’t be here,” said Tennis.

The province has said tables of up to 10 won’t be limited to people living in the same household, but groups must be kept two metres apart, patrons will be required to practice physical distancing and restaurants must follow public health guidelines.

REOPENING HAS UNION RESIDENT FEELING NERVOUS

Not everyone’s as comfortable with the idea of working in that environment, according to Jeff Traeger. He’s president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832 which represents about 300 restaurant workers in Winnipeg.

“I think it would make me nervous to do something like that right now,” said Traeger.

While most of UFCW’S members don’t work at restaurants with patios, Traeger said some are on staff at places that do have outdoor seating and have raised some questions about the reopening.

“I think our members are concerned when they’re dealing with the public that they’re going to have to be the ones to enforce these measures,” said Traeger.

He said access to personal protective equipment and limited options for child care are also concerns.

Shaun Jeffrey with the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association said business owners are hard at work to make sure they’re in compliance with the rules before opening their patios.

He said protecting staff and customers is the priority.

“They’ll be taking all the necessary steps,” he said. “Some may be taking it all to the next level, but there’ll be some very heightened awareness on protection, PPE,” said Jeffrey.

REOPENING COMES WITH COMPLICATIONS

The chief provincial public health officer acknowledged reopening comes with complications. Dr. Brent Roussin said people should remain cautious and continue to practice physical distancing, even as some measures are lifted.

“We’re still early in this pandemic and so we still need to deal with this virus, but what we do know is that these restrictions, the heavy restrictions also have huge impacts on health,” said Roussin.

Tennis has access to gloves and the restaurant has sanitizer and cleaning supplies.

She isn’t sure exactly when Colosseo’s patio will open, but when it does, she said it’ll be more like a picnic in the park — with takeout containers and no table service.

“If you want to come outside you’re more than welcome to,” said Tennis. “But it’s all paper stuff, so you’re not going to get the same feeling as getting served.” 

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