Businesses in the dark as Manitoba’s current COVID-19 restrictions set to expire

Tattoo artist Rich Handford is banking on reopening his business on St. Anne’s Road Saturday — the day after the current public health order expires.

Handford is a member of the Manitoba Body Art Association (MBAA), which has lobbied the provincial government to be considered under Phase 1 of reopening plans. The MBAA, born out of the COVID-19 pandemic, is a non-profit organization representing tattooing, piercing and permanent cosmetic services in Manitoba. 

The province’s current red-level public health orders, which prohibit nearly all visitors at private residences and forbid the sale of non-essential items in stores, will expire at 11:59 p.m. Friday.

Handford says the industry has come up with a plan to safely reopen and has submitted it to the premier, the health minister and to Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

“We want to raise public awareness as to the level of training within our field. All of our practitioners have training in cross-contamination prevention and infection control protocols, we are set to reopen and to do it safely,” said Handford.

But with only three days left before the current rules expire, Handford says there has been no government response. He is still going ahead with plans, even though he is frustrated he isn’t getting any direction on what will happen and when.

“As a business owner already drowning in debt, we are still going to arrange for staffing,” he said. “Sterilization equipment has to be tested and sent to labs.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into resurrecting a shuttered business and that all takes time,” he said.

Handford isn’t the only one hoping to see an influx of clients soon. Megan Gabert owns Orangetheory Fitness franchises in the Sage Creek and Bridgewater areas in Winnipeg. After two lockdowns and laying staff off twice, Gabert isn’t optimistic it will be business as usual come the weekend, despite members constantly contacting her about when they can get back to the gym.

“I watched Dr. Roussin’s news conference Monday. There were some very strong hints that the restrictions are going to be extended. I don’t think we will be reopening [Saturday], and I just can’t do that on the turn of a dime,” said Gabert.

Before the pandemic and public health restrictions forced her business to close, Gabert worked hard to pay off her two franchises. She said despite accessing help through the federal governments emergency COVID-19 programs for businesses and staff, it didn’t cover everything. She had to take on a lot of debt to stay afloat.

“This has been the hardest part to deal with. Now I am back to Square 1 — back to being a start up,” said Gabert.

Megan Gabert, owner of two Orangetheory fitness locations, says her members are antsy to get back to the gym. (Submitted by Megan Gabert)

Still, she is hoping the government will see the value of fitness for mental and physical wellness at a time when people are stressed beyond the limit.

“What I would like them to do is not open up until they are confident we don’t have to close again, ever,” she said.

“I would rather wait another two or four weeks and have a better chance of opening and staying open… rather than having to keep doing this dance of opening, closing, opening, closing— that’s way too hard.”

There are hundreds of other businesses caught in the same dance. Hair salons are waiting for the word. On Facebook, Edward Carriere Salon posted on Dec. 8, 2020, “as mandated by the province, we will be reopening for full service on Saturday, January 9.”

When contacted by CBC News Monday, the message was: “we haven’t heard anything yet and are waiting patiently.”

Staff at Hunter and Gunn Barbershop on Broadway say they are also waiting for clarity and are poised to open, if given the go ahead. 

Tonics Spa and Hair is booking online appointments, but a voice message says it’s not known when they will reopen.

Thermea is currently only open for massages, but is looking to expand that to saunas, pools and relaxation areas.

Public health order under review

During a news conference Monday, Dr. Roussin said now is not the time for Manitoba to relax its efforts against this virus.

The current public health orders are under review, he said, but new rules have not been determined.

“Our test positivity rates are still quite high, the hospitalization and ICU numbers are still high, and it’s also too early to know what the effects of gathering over the holidays may have had on our numbers,” he said.

“We haven’t yet landed on the new restrictions.”

This is leaving businesses in limbo, holding on to a thread of hope.

“I would love to reopen sometime in January if not early February. I would love to stay open. I would love for it to just get better and better,”said Gabert.

“I understand we will open with restrictions again. But hopefully by summer or fall we may be back to some kind of normal.”

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