Manitoba tattoo parlour owner says he has no choice but to defy COVID-19 rules

·2 min read

WINNIPEG — The owner of a Winnipeg tattoo parlour was fined Monday for opening in violation of COVID-19 restrictions and says he has no choice but to continue ignoring the rule.

"If I can't go to work, we lose everything," said Phil McLellan, a married father of four.

"Short of staying home and not earning anything — and losing everything — I don't have any other options."

McLellan's business, Parlour Tattoos, has been required to stay closed for roughly six months of the last year — first during the spring COVID-19 wave, then again this fall and winter.

The latest public health orders, instituted in November and extended twice, require non-essential businesses, including nail salons and tattoo shops, to remain shut. The earliest the restrictions might be eased is Jan. 22.

McLellan said he has received COVID-19 relief from some government programs — those for which he qualified — but not enough to even cover the rent on his business. He has fallen behind on other bills at work and at home, he said.

After opening his shop on Saturday and getting a preliminary visit from enforcement officers, he got a return visit Monday and was issued a $1,296 ticket. Officers also warned McLellan he may be fined again.

When non-essential businesses were ordered to close during the second COVID-19 wave in the fall, infections had spiked sharply. The province scrambled to open up more intensive care beds as demand increased. Elective surgeries were postponed.

"We were at a place, certainly in early December, where we were in a trajectory that would overwhelm our health-care system," Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer, said Monday.

"Since then, we've seen a very gradual improvement. But the message was we needed Manitobans to stay home, to only go out for essential services."

Roussin reported 133 new daily COVID-19 cases and three additional deaths. At the height of the fall spike, the number of daily cases regularly topped 400.

"We needed to have these restrictions in place to limit the transmission of the virus, and you can see that it's worked."

Still, Roussin said, hospitals remain strained and more time is needed to get COVID-19 numbers down further.

McLellan said he understands the need to fight COVID-19, but businesses like his need financial help.

"I'm not going to say that (the government is) trying to crush small business on purpose, because I don't believe that. But I believe that they overstepped and they didn't do anything to rectify the situation nearly fast enough."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2021

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press