WINNIPEG — The first doors-open lunch hour in more than three months at East India Company — a fixture among downtown Winnipeg restaurants — was not exactly a frenzy.
"We had one whole client at lunch today," Sachit Mehra, the restaurant's owner and manager, said Friday.
"But having said that, after three months of no dine-in customers, even that one person was a welcome sight."
A few blocks away, a handful of customers sat down to eat at Brown's Socialhouse.
Friday marked the first day of relaxed COVID-19 public health orders in Manitoba. For the first time since November, restaurants are no longer limited to takeout or delivery. They can offer dine-in service with a 25 per cent capacity limit.
Diners must be out by 10 p.m. and only people from the same household can sit together. That means even the reduced numbers of people still commuting to the office during the pandemic cannot go to lunch with their colleagues.
The restrictions will make it almost impossible for restaurants to turn a profit and some will remain closed, an industry group said.
"The unfortunate reality in our industry at 25 per cent (capacity) is that all restaurants that will be opening up at that capacity limit will be ... losing money," said Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association.
Other venues allowed to reopen at 25 per cent capacity include museums, libraries, tattoo parlours, art galleries and gyms.
But some are waiting.
The Canadian Museum For Human Rights is planning to reopen on Feb. 23. There are logistics to work out, such as how to offer tours with masked guides, and how to ensure people remain physically distant from each other.
"It's a little bit of a hurdle for our staff ... that have to deliver a 45-minute program with a mask on. It's a big task," said Jacques Lavergne, the museum's vice-president of visitor experience.
The museum has many interactive touch screen displays that have to remain off-limits to help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The province's COVID-19 case numbers continue a downward trend from a spike in the fall. Health officials reported 81 new cases Friday and four deaths. The percentage of people testing positive stood at 4.8 per cent after topping 12 per cent in the fall. The number of people in intensive care beds has been at its lowest in months.
Manitoba's chief public health officer said those numbers mean looser rules can be sustained, as long as everyone follows them.
"I'd say that if the protocols are followed, if the capacity limits are followed, if we have household members-only sitting at the (restaurant) table together, then we're at a level where we can safely do these types of things," Dr. Brent Roussin said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2021
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press