The extension of public health orders prompted the Manitoba government to expand and broaden a provincial support program.

A payment of $10,000 per business is now available to more companies, while the window to apply for the Manitoba Bridge Grant has been extended, and one industry some feel had previously been forgotten, is now included.

“Since March we’ve been essentially operating on a minimal revenue basis,” said Michael Kroeker, president and owner of Bonaventure Travel. “We’re down 95 per cent.”

Up until Tuesday, travel agencies hadn’t been eligible for Manitoba's bridge grant program, which is aimed at providing financial aid to businesses affected by restrictions and closures to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“I’m happy to hear that we’ve finally been included in this program,” said Kroeker. “Definitely, I think it is going to be something that is helpful to my business.”

Premier Brian Pallister said hotels and resorts, lodges and outfitters, janitorial services and licensed passenger transportation businesses have also become eligible for the $10,000 grant.

So far more than 10,740 eligible businesses, including some home-based operations, have received payments under the bridge grant program totalling $104 million.

The application window has also been extended to the end of the month but the premier warned businesses who’ve defied orders they need to follow public health rules to allow for a safe reopening.

“In the meantime, we’ll continue to offer these supports to those companies and we’ll continue to fine them if they break the rules,” Pallister said. “So, they may have to use some of our bridge grant to pay their fines, I guess.”

Business groups applauded the extension and expansion of the bridge grant program. They don’t condone defying orders but understand why some feel they have no other choice.

“There are so many businesses that need a chance to succeed on their own, they need a chance to get reopened,” said Jonathan Alward, prairies director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said the group has been lobbying the government to allow some businesses to reopen at reduced capacity. Davidson hopes that can happen after the current level red restrictions expire on Jan. 22.

“We’ve got a lot of businesses that have been not operating for 71 days now,” said Davidson. “That’s a 10-week timeframe that many businesses in this province have had potentially zero revenue coming in.”

Under Manitoba’s public health orders, travel agencies have been deemed essential, even though the service they sell is heavily restricted by federal COVID-19 measures and classified as non-essential.

Any easing of provincial restrictions will be of little help to their operations.

“We will be one of the last to recover,” said Kroeker. “That’s probably the biggest thing. We don’t have an option of selling curbside.”