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10-person indoor limit ‘actual insanity,’ pub owner says following premier’s statement

Some businesses will bear the impacts of additional public health restrictions after the Government of the Northwest Territories announced further COVID-19 limits on gatherings, Wednesday.
Premeir Caroline Cochrane and her government have announced public health restrictions on indoor gatherings at a maximum of 10 people, which will impact non-essential businesses. Among those affected are food and beverage operations and small retail shops. photo courtesy of the GNWT

Some businesses will bear the impacts of additional public health restrictions after the Government of the Northwest Territories announced further COVID-19 limits on gatherings, Wednesday.

From Sept. 24 at 11:59 p.m. to Oct 4, there will be a limit of 10 people allowed at indoor gatherings and 25 for ones held outdoors.

The territorial government recognizes that businesses deemed non-essential will have to cope, Premier Caroline Cochrane said during a Sept. 22 news conference.

“The restrictions are impacting and are going to impact businesses and they’re going to impact residents, and so we’re looking at what we can do to support all,” she said.

Cochrane said there are federal and territorial support programs currently in place, and members of her government are meeting with the NWT Chamber of Commerce and NWT Tourism “to make sure that we have identified all the needs of businesses and that supports that we can implement are appropriate.”

Dr. Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, identified a long list of essential businesses that will remain open and exempt from the rules, including grocery and large retail stores. Other businesses that fall under this label include shelters, dental clinics, pharmacies, gas bars, convenience stores, banks, liquor stores, media outlets and the airport. Still others will include health-care workers, RCMP, supply chain workers and businesses involved in construction of public and Indigenous infrastructure projects.

Private businesses involved in the mineral and petroleum resource industry will remain functioning over the 10-day period, too.

Others, however, like small retail and food and beverage operations will have to follow the indoor gathering guidelines.

Renee Comeau, executive director with the NWT Chamber of Commerce, said her organization and the GNWT are both aware that the restrictions are going to hit certain businesses more than others, particularly food and beverage and accommodations.

”They’re (food and beverage and accommodations) still allowed to be open, but to be honest, especially when you’re dealing with food and beverage, we’re very aware of the fact it’s not going to fit for them,” Comeau said. “So I think right now the best thing that you can do for them is support delivery.”

Comeau said the GNWT’s announcement came very quickly and although the chamber has been critical of the COVID Secretariat in the past, she added that the GNWT public health body has been actively trying to find solutions that will have the least impact on the business community.

Programs available to assist food and beverage establishments include the GNWT Pandemic Relief Extension Program (PREP). The federal government also has its Canadian Recovery Program, which continues to provide income support for workers.

Comeau said the restrictions add to burdens food and beverage businesses are already facing with labour shortages and trying to hire people. Others may have to lay people off.

“They can’t just not pay their staff for 10 days and as great as delivery is, sometimes it actually costs more money than what they’re making because their margins are so low,” she said. “So there is a concern that if they’re not able to do something to keep their staff, it could make it worse.”

Jennifer Vornbrock, co-owner of the Monkey Tree Pub, said she’s frustrated by the additional indoor gathering restrictions.

She’s critical of the territorial government’s approach to reach a solution for restaurants.

”I’m all for keeping everything safe and doing what we need to do to make sure the healthcare system doesn’t collapse, but please tell me if the situation is so dire at this very moment, why are we waiting three days to shut down?” she said. “We’re letting everybody gallivant around town for the next three days and then closing at midnight on Friday? That doesn’t make any sense.”

She’s worried about her staff who depend on wages and is helping some travel for the 10 days to take a break from the situation. In addition, takeout or delivery doesn’t provide the revenue needed, particularly because so much comes from alcohol sales, according to Vornbrock. She has applied to the territorial government for an exemption to allow for 25 per cent of her establishment’s capacity - or 51 people. She said this would make sense, given the size of the pub at 4,000 square feet.

”To say that you can only operate with 10 people, regardless of your size is actual insanity,” she contended.

Mel Leonard, marketing and communications manager with the NWT Brewing Company, stated that the company will comply with the public health guidelines while still offering access to its products.

“The ownership and management of the Woodyard and NWT Brewing take the health and safety of our community, as well as our staff, very seriously,” Leonard said. “While not an ideal situation, we understand the need for the current circuit breaker restrictions announced on Wednesday. The Woodyard will do our part, and will operate with expanded touchless takeout for both food and beer off-sales during this period. “