Health Minister Cameron Friesen says he knows Manitoba businesses are hurting, but the province needs to stay the course and maintain its partial shutdown in order to get COVID-19 under control.
Friesen was responding to Winkler businessman Tomm Penner who has initiated a province-wide letter-writing campaign asking the province to allow businesses to reopen. Penner contends that smaller businesses can operate in this pandemic by implementing responsible hygiene and distancing measures.
The health minister says he's read the letter and understands the difficulties that small businesses are facing right now under the partial lockdown.
"I think in response to this letter, businesses are asking what can they do to make their voices heard. We're saying to them that these current restrictions are not forever, that they are just for now, so hang in there a little longer because we have confidence that these measures will drive down the community transmission of COVID-19, but we're not quite there yet."
Manitoba has registered record-breaking days over the past couple of weeks with more deaths from COVID than in the first 7 months of the pandemic and the rate of hospitalizations continues to rise.
Friesen was asked if small businesses were a major contributor to the spread of the virus in Manitoba.
"I think we all understand that when we intermingle when we are in close proximity with each other without forms of protection the virus spreads. We're still seeing around 400 cases in Manitoba each day. That's not sustainable because eventually, our health care system gets full, we saturate our hospitals and we have no place to put new people. That's what we must avoid at all costs."
Many small business owners took exception to the fact that larger big box stores were initially selling non-essential goods immediately after the province went to level red in its pandemic response system. However, measures were put in place shortly after to ensure those stores were only selling essential items and nothing else.
The province has implemented relief measures for businesses to deal with some of the losses they are incurring from the shutdown, which Friesen says are among the most generous in Canada.
"They're designed to help them get through this and work together to know how and in what way we can start to reopen our economy."
The programs the Manitoba government has initiated include the Manitoba Gap Protection program, the Back-to-Work wage subsidy and the Manitoba Risk Recognition program.
Written by Dean Penner