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Manitoba businesses chafe under extended orders

It’s an elongated state of flux for Manitoba businesses, as the province announced January 9 a two-week extension for stringent pandemic restrictions.

While chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin had expected to “at least somewhat relax” code red guidelines Friday, instead COVID-19 new case counts creeping up after the holiday season means: “Now is not the time to make that decision.”

At least until Jan. 22, things like getting a haircut, shopping for clothes or buying personal electronics in-store will remain prohibited. Save for essential retailers such as grocery stores and pharmacies, all non-essential establishments – among them restaurants, pubs and beauty salons -remain shuttered.

“We want the least-restrictive means necessary,” said Roussin, adding he understands the disappointment about stretching out orders which have been in place across Manitoba since November.

“Somebody who’s a small-business owner is frustrated, somebody who wants to go visit their parents is frustrated,” he said. “But when you open things up, we’ll see numbers increase.”

For business owners, however, it’s more than frustration _ it’s an increased threat to their livelihood, with anxieties about long-term economic survival.

Commerce stakeholders believe the province waited too long to announce an unchanged extension. Rules should have been adjusted to allow capacity limits or appointment services for storefronts that could safely reopen, if permitted, advocates said.

“It’s extremely challenging and concerning when you relay these rules 24 hours before they were to end,” said Chuck Davidson, president and chief executive officer of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce. “And it’s disheartening because businesses have been following all the necessary precautions and were really looking forward to opening again.”

Davidson said there has been “no science or indications” transmission is occurring at specific locations.

“It’s hard to get business owners to understand why they should remain closed when that data isn’t there and those metrics haven’t been clear,” he said.

At Silver Heights Restaurant in Winnipeg, that’s exactly why owner Tony Siwicki feels defeated.

“We’ve had no customers in our doors for more than 10 weeks and we’re following every single rule to a T,” he said.

“But you’re telling us that somehow we’re still a contributing reason for increasing cases or will become a reason if we opened? That’s just a bogus assumption.”

Amanda Deroy Sheriff, who runs Beauty Box by Sheriff on Ellice Avenue, with her sisters and mother, agreed.

“We’re a salon and we can take appointments,” she said. “Doesn’t that make us safe to reopen when we can space people out and only take a few of them in?”

Such concerns are part of “a growing anger within the business community,” said Loren Remillard, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. “It seems as though they’re having to carry a disproportionate weight and cost during the pandemic.”

That’s why Jonathan Alward, Prairies director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, hopes the province will continue to provide more financial relief as restrictions linger on. “Otherwise, I’m concerned that too many more businesses are going to start closing down for good.”

For now, however, it remains to be seen whether the province will adjust guidelines in the coming weeks.

“We’ve considered a number of options for this set of orders,” said Roussin. “Any time we feel the numbers support it, we’re going to start pulling back restrictions.”

 


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Customer rips door off hinges after becoming irate when told she had to wear a facemask

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Being forced to wear a face mask inside businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic is a polarizing issue across the province.

Some people are taking it with stride while others are getting downright irate. In fact, one customer at Biggar’s Main Street Market store became so infuriated when she was told she had to wear a mask that she ripped the front door right off of its hinges.

READ: How to get customers to comply with COVID-19 safety measures

Biggar Main Street Market owner Shirley Kegler took the incident in stride – not even threatening to call the RCMP or filing a police report.

“It just pushed forward the (door’s) replacement,” the good-natured business owner said Monday afternoon in a matter-of-fact manner. “That was about it. It was an old door. It was on its last legs.”

Kegler said she didn’t witness the incident but added that one of her customers saw the “door unhinging.”

“She was mad, swearing and cursing, saying she didn’t want to wear a mask and ripped off the door.”

The door is being replaced this afternoon and until it’s completed, customers are forced to come and go through the back door.


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7-Eleven Canada gives back

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Across Canada, 7-Eleven Canada is offering more than 1.3 million face masks and 77,000 bottles of hand sanitizer in the five provinces where it does business: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

7-Eleven Canada has donated masks and sanitizers to schools in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In a statement, the company said it’s part of efforts to keep “students, teachers, and other front-line staff safe and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

500,000 masks and 28,000 bottles of hand sanitizer were shipped to Alberta Education last month.

“7-Eleven Canada is proud to support Alberta students, educators, front-line staff and school boards with additional face masks and hand sanitizer to keep them safe,” Norman Hower, VP and general manager, 7-Eleven Canada, said in a release. “As a leading convenience industry employer, we welcome the opportunity to do our part and contribute to the communities we serve.”

In addition, 7-Eleven Canada has donated 125,000 masks and 7,000 bottles of hand sanitizer each to the Governments of Manitoba and Saskatchewan for use in schools and other high-priority areas.

7-Eleven stores are a destination for young people, which makes the school-focused outreach a good fit for the brand.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 7-Eleven Canada says it has taken steps to enhance store safety for its customers and staff: “To create a safer shopping experience, enhanced health and safety measures have been implemented at all 634 corporate-run locations from B.C. through to Ontario, that are compliant with and exceed all provincial health and safety standards.”

In addition, 7-Eleven Canada has also donated approximately 350,000 meals since January to Food Banks Canada and continues to work toward its goal of 500,000 meals.


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Saskatchewan restarts emergency grants for small businesses hit by COVID-19 rules

The Saskatchewan government is reviving an emergency grant program for small businesses that have been hit by restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19.

The province will begin accepting applications for its small business emergency payment program next week until the end of January.

Businesses with fewer than 500 employees can apply to receive a grant of 15 per cent of their monthly sales revenue recorded before the pandemic arrived in March, to a maximum of $5,000.

“What we are hearing is that the measures that we have taken do have a significant impact on a number of businesses, but in particular on the restaurant business,” Premier Scott Moe said Thursday.

“The goal is to get the supports into the hands of the workers across this province as quickly as possible.”

The Saskatchewan Party government expects the program to cost $8 million.

The program was introduced in the spring to support non-essential businesses that were forced to close to curtail the virus’s spread.

Its restart comes as the province battles the most widespread transmission of COVID-19 it has seen to date along with a sharp rise in hospital admissions.

Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili called the program flawed. He said its criteria in the spring meant many businesses couldn’t get access to the funds.

“We’re talking about a commitment only to support through December and, really, a very small amount in terms of the dollars coming forward at a time when this government has put businesses in a terrible position,” Meili said.

“By failing to take clear action and support businesses early on and prevent COVID-19 getting to the state we’re in today … we may end up in a much more serious situation of lockdown if these case numbers continue to rise.”

Eligible businesses are ones that have had to change how they operate to comply with public-health rules put in place last month and have lost revenue.

Public venues, such as movie theatres and bingo halls, have had their capacity capped at 30 people and all team sports are suspended. Public health has also ordered that no more than four people sit together at a restaurant or bar.


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Toronto COVID 19 lockdown will have ‘major impact’ on residents and businesses, says councillor

Convenience stores will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity

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Toronto and Peel Region will enter the province’s Lockdown level effective Monday, Nov. 23, Premier Doug Ford announced on Friday afternoon.

It means restaurants, bars, and other food and drink establishments will only be able to provide takeout. Indoor dining and patio dining has been prohibited.

Personal care services such as barbershops and salons will be closed. Casinos, bingo halls, and other gaming establishments will be closed. Indoor sports and recreational facilities will be closed.

Essential retail such as grocery stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, hardware stores, discount and big box retailers selling groceries, liquor stores, safety supply stores, and convenience stores will be allowed to operate at 50%t capacity.

Non-essential retail will be closed and will have to operate through curbside pickup or online delivery. Wedding services, funeral services, and religious services can have up to 10 people indoors or 10 people outdoors. Outdoor organized public events or social gatherings will be limited to 10 people.

Residents are asked to stay at home and go out for essential needs only. No indoor organized events or social gatherings are permitted. Individuals who live alone, including seniors, can have exclusive contact with another person.

Schools and child care centres will remain open.

The Lockdown order follows a continuing steady rise of cases in Ontario, with 80 per cent of new cases in Red Zone regions in and around the Greater Toronto Area.

Hospitalizations have increased by 22 per cent, and ICU admittance grew by 50 per cent, Ford said. The Premier added that if the restrictive actions were not taken, the province would see up to 6,000 daily cases in the coming weeks.

“This virus, it spreads like wildfire,” Ford said. “And in certain parts of the province it’s spreading at an alarming rate.”

He explained that if the lockdown measures aren’t taken then it risks overwhelming the province’s hospitals and ICUs, reminding Ontarians that the “situation is extremely serious.”

The new health measures will be in place until Dec. 21.

The province also announced $600 million in business relief (up from its initial announcement of $300 million). Eligible businesses can apply online for a temporary property tax and energy cost rebate grants.

The rebates will cover the length of time the business is required to close. Most businesses can expect to receive rebate payments within a few weeks of submitting an online application at Ontario.ca/covidsupport

Ford’s announcement follows Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s earlier announcement Friday, Nov. 20, morning.

“This is for the future of our country, our children, our loved ones, our seniors, its economy, our businesses,” he said, asking Canadians to stay at home as cases spike across the country.

“Another few weeks, another few months, we can do this, we’ve done it before, we know what to do, we understand this virus much better than before, we need to reduce our contacts, we need to do it right now,” the Prime Minister added.

As of Nov. 20, Ontario reached more than 100,000 cases, and 3,451 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic this year. There are 518 patients hospitalized, 142 in ICU, and 92 on a ventilator, with the numbers continuing to grow.

Both Toronto and Peel have seen roughly 300 to 500 new cases each day for the last three weeks.

Toronto had a total 35,040 cases as of Nov. 20 since the beginning of the pandemic, currently it has 4,398 active cases. Almost 1,500 Torontonians have died this year as a result of COVID-19.

Across the city, COVID-19 has spread in varying degrees. While the northwest and Scarborough remain hardest hit, it has spread quickly through some parts of East Toronto and neighbourhoods surrounding the Danforth, including outbreaks in local long-term care homes.

As per Toronto Public Health data, in the last 21 days the Beach had six cases, East End-Danforth had 21 cases, Taylor-Massey had 47, Danforth and Danforth-East York had 13 and 18 respectively, and Greenwood-Coxwell recorded 24 cases.

The caseload per 100,000 is dire in Taylor-Massey (Crescent Town) where there are 300 cases per 100,000 in the last three weeks.

Beaches-East York NDP MPP Rima Berns-McGown said the emergency public health measures announced on Friday aren’t enough to stop the spread.

“Until Ford makes the connection that he needs to support vulnerable workers and communities, we will not be able to get this virus under control,” she said.

“It will cost the economy more in the long run than it would to invest in the workers, communities and small businesses that need immediate help.”

Berns-McGown added the province “wouldn’t have been in this situation” if Ford had taken public health advice that included more testing and contact tracing. The Premier has responded to criticism by saying he listens to all the medical advice he receives from Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, who was present and also spoke at Friday’s press conference.

As per the NDP’s repeated requests this year, Berns-McGown said the reduction of school class sizes, allowing workers to have paid sick days to stay home when they’re ill, and an emergency moratorium on evictions is what would actually make a difference in bending the curve of COVID-19 cases.

“One of the reasons we are in this nightmare is that many of our frontline workers are low-income earners who can’t afford to stay home when they are sick. So they don’t know if they will be evicted if they fall behind in their rent,” she said.

Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford, who had been monitoring the effect the pandemic has had on local businesses, said the lockdown is very worrying.

“As I talk to community members across Beaches-East York, I know another lockdown is going to have major impacts on our physical, economic and mental health,” he said. “Our local businesses have been hard hit. We hear a lot about the hospitality sector but our other local staples like gyms, yoga studios and other recreational activities are really hurting. I share a lot of the sentiments I’m hearing about the approach and communications on managing this crisis being confusing and seeming inconsistent.”

“While it’s sometimes hard to understand one specific decision over another, it’s clear that we need to take the public health advice seriously,” Bradford added.

Earlier moves by the city that had allowed restaurants and bars to offer outdoor patio service and space over the winter, will be ineffective during the lockdown.

Local politicians, business owners, and the Premier are all imploring residents to shop local and order takeout to help weather the economic fallout of the lockdown.

The Premier also told Ontarians to “avoid panic buying” as supply lines remain open and continuous.

While Toronto and Peel moved into Lockdown stage, Durham and Waterloo were moved to Red, and other health units across Ontario moved to Orange or Yellow.

At the press conference, Dr. Williams asked Ontarians in high-risk zones to avoid travel to lower-risk zones during the lockdown.


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The Convenience U CARWACS Show West goes virtual

Screen Shot 2020-09-14 at 5.58.27 PMThe Convenience U CARWACS Show – Greater Vancouver is moving online, with a new action-packed virtual event, The Convenience U CARWACS Show West Digital.

The change is in response to ongoing efforts to keep attendees safe in the face of the ongoing pandemic. While COVID-19 is changing how the show will be delivered, one thing will not change –  this is an exceptional opportunity for convenience retailers, convenience-gas and car wash operators in Western Canada to connect with key suppliers across North America.

The events kicks off November 4 and participants will have an unprecedented opportunity to access interactive event content at their convenience and for a longer period of time.

  • Connect and engage in real-time with key industry suppliers for 7 days
  • Browse the interactive products/equipment/solutions sourcing guide
  • Gain industry insights through educational content
  • Complete access to all materials and exhibitor profiles for 90 days

Registration is opening soon. For more information, go ConvenienceU.ca

In the meantime, CLICK HERE to sign up for show news!


Statistics Canada preps new online inflation tool to better detail price impacts

The national statistics agency is readying a new online tool designed to help Canadians track the impact of price changes on their spending during the pandemic.

Statistics Canada already has a visualization tool that allows users to see the changes in prices for goods that make up the country’s headline inflation number.

A senior official with the agency says the next step is to let individuals put in their own spending patterns to generate a consumer price index unique to themselves so they can better see themselves in the data the agency collects.

Assistant chief statistician Greg Peterson says the online tool is still a work in progress, but meant to address a gap between official measurements of inflation and consumers’ price perceptions.

Inflation rates collapsed as economic restrictions were put in place earlier this year to curb the spread of COVID-19, and price increases overall are expected to stay low through next year.

But consumer perceptions suggest a belief that prices are rising as Canadians buy more things that are rising in cost like food, and less of goods whose prices have declined such as gasoline.


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The new pandemic planogram

From capitalizing on emerging opportunities to accommodating queuing systems and adjusting to category upheaval, making every square foot count is more important than ever

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 1.02.30 PMTo say that this year has been challenging would be an understatement. With everything that we’re now expected to do (and not do), how do we plan for our future business, while keeping customers, staff and ourselves safe?

Layouts that feature proper category allocation are even more important, in part because you need to allow more space for safer movement, which ultimately reduces sales space. This means making every square foot even more productive, but not to the point of impeding customer movement or safety. The days of jammed isles with cases of pop, weekenders and promo packs are gone. A crowded and cluttered location does not reflect well on the operator and their dedication to customer safety. Prior to this, it was the bathroom that offered a glimpse into the dealer’s commitment level, or perceived level. It often turned out badly.

The key categories have always been dynamic, forcing retailers to pay close attention to them, or at least the good ones, but nowadays you really do need a plan. Some categories have been completely reworked, while others are showing growth that has been unheard of for years. The healthy and beauty aids/over the counter (HBA/OTC), household and dairy categories are in the forefront. While perhaps unlikely six months ago, now these make sense because customers want to “one-stop-shop” for their milk, Advil and Lysol Wipes, at the same place they buy their gas and cigarettes. We continue to have tobacco, lottery and some very low gas prices bringing customers in store, and with a few product and layout changes, we can have them leaving with a little more. These days, people want to be efficient shoppers so if you didn’t offer tap and pay, a website or provide online or pre-ordering before the pandemic, you should now.  

There have been some serious product surges in recent months, including toilet paper, disinfectant sprays and cleaning supplies, which caused supply rushes. This prompted customers to look at sources and suppliers that they normally wouldn’t, for products they normally wouldn’t. As the Shoppers Drug Marts get more into groceries, maybe convenience operators should consider more HBA/OTC business? Everyone seems eager to pick up those little hand sanitizers at check out. Specialty category products have become even more important to help give your customers greater choices when they shop with you. A trend can develop as simply as an everyday item that has found a secondary purpose.

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 1.02.50 PMCustomer and staff safety are the top priorities. Retailers are taking a second look at how they allocate space for customer movement and flow. Plexiglass barriers for the operators are now common, while the use of queuing systems at the cash gives customers and staff a sense of distance and order. Consider fixtures that create a “queuing structure” (Winners and HomeSense do this) to stream, direct and space out customers, while waiting to pay, as well as floor clings (footprints) to help determine distance and direction. These fixtures also offer a last POP opportunity to display products as the customer waits to pay. 

Now, more than ever, it’s important to have a PLAN. The fixtures, service counters and cash-desk need to be designed for maximum product sales, and the product featured needs to be current and in demand. There needs to be room to move and shop, while distancing from others. We call this “social distancing” now, but some have referred to it as “frictionless” in the past. The key to the safety of your staff, customers and you is a PLAN. 

This article originally appeared in the June/July issue of Convenience Store News Canada.


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Dollarama workers call for resumption of pay raise amid the pandemic

Dollarama workers in Montreal are demanding higher wages and better working conditions after the retailer ended its temporary coronavirus pay boost earlier this month.

Employees at Dollarama stores received a 10 per cent wage increase at the end of March while warehouse workers saw a $3 raise for employees who typically start near minimum wage, which in Quebec is $13.10.

Dollarama and several other retailers launched their so-called pandemic pay programs as COVID-19 began to spread throughout Canada, triggering unprecedented working conditions amid a shopping frenzy that left some store shelves bare as companies scrambled to restock products ranging from flour to paper towels.

The Montreal-based retailer stopped the pay premiums on Aug. 2 after extending them for a month and a half beyond the expected end date.

Despite Dollarama’s efforts to ramp up health measures amid the pandemic, it is not possible to maintain physical distancing inside its Montreal warehouse, said organizers at a demonstration near the facility in Montreal on Thursday afternoon. Hundreds of employees clock in and out at the same time and work on the same floor, they said.

Gaurav Sharma, who works as a pallet builder in the warehouse, described conditions as “the very worst” due to a lack of onsite medical resources and inconsistent adherence to health measures such as masks and distancing.

“Some people are putting on masks, some people are not putting on masks,” said Sharma, 40.

“It’s very hard work, and the salary is very low,” he said of his job, which involves lifting and stacking boxes.

Sharma, who lives with his wife, sister and father, said he is concerned about the precariousness of both his health and income, particularly for his family.

“He has a lot of medical problems,” Sharma said of his 72-year-old dad. “My father and my sister are dependent on me.”

The distribution centre is staffed primarily by immigrants and asylum seekers employed through temporary placement agencies, leaving already vulnerable workers in a less secure position, said organizers with the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montreal.

Dollarama said it continues to adhere to strict COVID-19 health and safety protocols across its operations, having developed them in collaboration with government agencies at the outset of the pandemic.

“The repeatedly recycled claims being made by these third parties regarding Dollarama’s working conditions and response to the pandemic are 100 per cent false and unfounded,” spokeswoman Lyla Radmanovich wrote in an email.

“Pay scales for our workforce continue to be competitive _ both in stores and in our logistics chain _ and have evolved throughout the course of the pandemic, dictated by market conditions.”

Canada’s three major grocers _ Loblaw Companies Ltd., Metro Inc, and Empire Co. Ltd. _ also halted their temporary pandemic pay bonuses simultaneously in mid-June.

The news sparked a backlash, with unions representing some of the workers pushing back against the decision saying the pandemic was not over. Unifor National called for the increased pay to be made permanent.

A parliamentary committee hearing last month saw executives from the three grocery chains face questions over their cancellation of the $2-per-hour wage increase, which was implemented in March.

The grocers have said they stopped the programs as the COVID-19 situation stabilized at their stores and distribution centres. Loblaw also indicated it was no longer benefiting financially from the pandemic despite increased sales as it invested hundreds of millions of dollars into safety measures.

Dollarama reported a year-over-year sales boost of two per cent to $844.8 million and a nearly 17 per cent drop in net earnings to $86.1 million in the quarter ended June 30.

“$86.1 million in profit,” read one attendee’s sign at the demonstration Thursday afternoon, “but nothing for workers.”

About 50 protestors attended the event, calling for permanent restoration of the pandemic pay and safer working conditions between chants of “solidarity.”


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N.L. mandatory mask rule comes into effect despite no active cases of COVID-19

On Duckworth Street in St. John’s, N.L., shoppers were compliant, if not outright enthusiastic, about the indoor mask-wearing order that entered into effect across the province Monday.

Newfoundland and Labrador has enjoyed a summer with relaxed restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and fewer than a dozen reported cases of the illness. Health authorities last week declared no active cases of COVID-19 in the province.

Ron Linegar, chef at Caines Grocery & Deli, said he’s heard complaints about the mask order being overkill with such little transmission in the community. But, he said, wearing a mask is an easy gesture of respect for others during the crisis.

“Just get over it. It’s not too hard,” Linegar said Monday outside the store, wearing a blue mask.

The deli has been serving customers throughout the pandemic, and Linegar said masks are another way to take care of them. “For me, it’s more than just I’m told to wear it,” he said. “I want to wear it for the customers.”

Mask-wearing is mandatory for everyone above the age of five, in all indoor public places across the province, such as retail stores, public transportation, fitness centres and movie theatres. People with certain health conditions are exempt.

On Monday, the few shoppers and workers on Duckworth Street who braved the heavy rain sported masks as they dashed from their cars to the stores.

Ceanne Giovannini has been wearing a mask since the beginning of the pandemic, she said, as she is battling cancer. Giovannini said the order makes her feel safer. “I love the fact that we have to wear one,” she said.

Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, surprised the public when she announced the measure last week.

She said authorities are trying to make mask-wearing widespread before schools reopen and people begin interacting more and in larger numbers.

“This will give people time to get used to wearing them and hopefully will reduce the spread … so that we don’t get a second wave,” Fitzgerald told reporters last week. “That’s what we want, ultimately.”

People can be fined for violating the order but Fitzgerald said the emphasis will be on education rather than enforcement.

Newfoundland and Labrador last reported a case of COVID-19 Aug. 10. The province has reported 268 cases since the pandemic began and three deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.

Fitzgerald noted last week that the public has been generally compliant with her public health orders.

Emma Vatcher, another downtown shopper, said she’s become used to wearing her mask at work in the service industry. But she wondered why the rule wasn’t put in place in the spring when cases peaked in the province.

“I feel like it should have been mandatory to wear them earlier on in the year,” she said. “But at the same time they’re kind of expecting a second wave to happen. If this can prevent a second wave from being really bad I think it’s worth it.”

The order hasn’t gone without opposition.

Small groups of protesters gathered outside the provincial legislature over the weekend with signs decrying the “medical tyranny” of the mask-wearing order. Protesters said the directive infringes on personal freedoms. One person came out to protest outside the legislature Monday afternoon.

The order has also attracted some scrutiny because mask-wearing rules are stricter for the general public than for students and teachers in public schools.

Masks must be worn on buses but only high school students will be required to wear masks, and only in common areas.

The province’s largest school district will provide reusable masks to all students and teachers, but the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association still took issue with the discrepancy.

“The NLTA is concerned with looser public health protection for children and teachers compared to the strict public health expectations that all people use masks when in public spaces,” it said in a statement last week.