Business owners, workers say new supports a 'big help' amid COVID-19 closures

·3 min read
Gyms and restaurants are some of the business that have been shut down by new pandemic restrictions. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)
Gyms and restaurants are some of the business that have been shut down by new pandemic restrictions. (Laura Meader/CBC - image credit)

Fitness and restaurant industry workers are only some of the people who are looking to apply for new COVID-19 aid programs now that their businesses are being shut down for at least two weeks.

On Thursday, P.E.I. announced further supports for businesses that have been affected by the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions, including a 25 per cent rebate covering the period the public health measures are supposed to remain in place.

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The province's emergency lump-sum payment programs for workers have also been extended until Jan. 31.

The announcement came a day after the new restrictions came into effect, triggering more pandemic financial worries for many Islanders.

Ananda Argeja, owner of Spicey Chef, said the supports are a "big help" even if they don't cover all the losses.

"Business [is greatly] going down, especially at this restaurant," he said. "We'll discuss it today or tomorrow, then we'll apply for this benefit."

Argeja said the restaurant has five or six staff now that in-person dining has been shut down. Normally it would be twice that number.

Jaspreet Singh is a co-chef at the restaurant. He said his hours have been cut by half to about five hours a day.

"We used to work more than 40 hours because it's been busy all days, even in the weekends and weekdays as well. But now because of the lockdown, everyone wants to stay at home, wants to stay safe, as we do also. So it really affects our business," he said.

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

Singh says that while his wife works from home, the situation at his household is still "really stressful" with wages being low while rents remain high.

He said he's looking to apply for support and he's expecting the closures to be extended.

Shutdown has impact on morale, gym owner says

The Atlantic Fitness Centre has been using the shutdown to do some extra cleaning.

Co-owner Chris MacPhee said his staff will be applying for the appropriate programs.

"They have been quite beneficial," he said. "I know for our particular business as well, we don't have a large staff, but it's a smaller, very well valued staff for sure. And they were very appreciative in the past of the program assistance."

While he said his business can withstand being shut down for two weeks, MacPhee said the restrictions have also an impact beyond finances.

Laura Meader/CBC
Laura Meader/CBC

He said the pandemic continues to take a toll on staff's mental health — as well as that of his members.

"Right now, during a two-week shutdown like this ... we care about the welfare of our members more than anything else," he said. "I do believe [fitness] has become borderline essential for people's mental health."

In the meantime, the gym has been lending equipment to people so they can use it during the shutdown.

Students also applying for support

Young people have also felt the financial strain of the restrictions.

The Bell Aliant Centre's pool has been closed for a month now. Many students who work there depend on the wages for various expenses.

One such student is Emily Thistle, a 17-year-old swimming instructor.

"I have a car now and I have insurance to pay for," she said. "It's kind of my first experience with all this stuff, too, being like, 'Oh, I do really do need this income and it is affecting me.'"

Thistle decided to apply for the $500 emergency lump-sum payment, which she said has helped a lot. But she said other people who've applied to the program are facing even harder challenges.

"I am very lucky to not live paycheque to paycheque. But those that do, I know that this would be a really tough situation for them," she said.

"For someone that would be older, maybe supporting a family, a single parent, I know ... you could be worried about losing your home or putting food on the table. So I'm very fortunate to not have to worry about those things right now."