‘We’ve been here before’ Province mulls pandemic rule changes for gatherings, retail

More retail shopping, visits to the barber and even some expanded household socializing could be back on the books for people living in southern Manitoba this weekend.

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This article was published 19/01/2021 (690 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

More retail shopping, visits to the barber and even some expanded household socializing could be back on the books for people living in southern Manitoba this weekend.

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said a small suite of changes to current public health restrictions — intended to slow the spread of COVID-19 — are up for consideration, as part of new orders set to take effect Saturday.

“We’re opening up things in a very limited way,” Roussin said Tuesday. “A lot of this is going to depend on Manitobans’ actions. If we start seeing transmission of that virus again, we’re not going to be able to further reopen.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Manitoba's chief medical officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, couldn’t say how many more people need to be hired to get the province's vaccination program up to speed.

After 10 weeks of severe, provincewide critical-level restrictions, Roussin said residents in southern Manitoba could cautiously get back to the following activities:

 

  • having up to two visitors to your home at one time;
  • hosting a group of five people outside on private property;
  • having 10 guests at a funeral.

 

CHANGES UNDER CONSIDERATION 

The province is looking at the following changes to pandemic rules for some parts of the province:

Household limits

• Two additional people (family or friends) allowed to visit inside a household;
• Outdoor visits of up to five people, plus members of a household, permitted on outdoor private property;
• Funerals permitted with up to 10 people in addition to the officiant.

Retail shops

• All stores allowed to open for sale of all products, with requirements for physical distancing and occupancy restrictions;
• Elimination of the essential items list.

Other services

• Non-regulated health services, such as podiatrists and reflexologists, allowed to reopen with physical distancing and contact tracing;
• Barber shops and hair stylists allowed to reopen at 25 per cent capacity with physical distancing and contact tracing.

Retail stores currently shuttered could be allowed to reopen, with strict capacity limits, and the list of “essential items” that reduces what can be sold in-person could be shelved.

Hair salons and barbers, as well as non-regulated health services, could also reopen for appointments, so long as capacity is capped at 25 per cent and operators collect information from clients for potential contact tracing.

It is unlikely restrictions will be eased in the Northern Health region Saturday, as public health and community leadership attempt to bring a number of significant COVID-19 outbreaks under control.

On Tuesday, Manitoba reported 11 more pandemic deaths and 111 new infections.

The province did not share the data it collects through contact tracing to justify moving retail businesses, small household gatherings, hair salons and select health services to the top of the reopening list.

“When you look at the (proposed) loosening restrictions we have right now, they’re not including places that really have the prolonged enclosed contact,” Roussin said. “The possible exception of that are residences, but we’re limiting that to very low numbers and messaging that we need to limit that.”

The province’s top doctor said in easing restrictions on household gatherings, he is hoping to strike a balance between the harms of isolation and the risk of spread.

Under a new public health order, people would be allowed to have two visitors to their home one day, and two different visitors another day, Roussin said. However, it is “not an invitation to dramatically increase our household contacts.”

“We want Manitobans to be able to have that connection, but we all have to realize the more connections we have, the more risk of transmission of this virus,” he said.

“I’m sure there’ll be a lot of Manitobans (questioning) why didn’t we open more, or why didn’t we open this or that — and it’s for that reason: we’ve been here before. We’ve been here with good numbers, and very quickly they turn to bad numbers.”–Dr. Brent Roussin

Winnipeg-based epidemiologist Cynthia Carr said the rate of COVID-19 transmission in Manitoba at this time suggests a “slow, very careful approach” to gatherings is warranted.

“You better be sure, that even though the opportunity may be there, you still have to be very careful about your own activities and interactions elsewhere, that you’re still being as safe as possible,” Carr said.

As the province moves forward in reducing restrictions, Carr said the public has to respond with at least equal attention and diligence to measures that reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The data shows us it’s not necessarily strangers that you’re getting infected from, it’s people you know,” Carr said.

Roussin said he expects the new iteration of the public health order will last three weeks, and will be reviewed at that time.

It is important to recall how the virus tore through Manitoba last fall and overwhelmed public health capacity to trace and isolate cases, he said.

“I’m sure there’ll be a lot of Manitobans (questioning) why didn’t we open more, or why didn’t we open this or that — and it’s for that reason: we’ve been here before,” Roussin said. “We’ve been here with good numbers, and very quickly they turn to bad numbers.”

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the province should have also informed Manitobans as to when other parts of the economy might open up.

Restaurants and businesses such as gyms need more clarity on when they might be able to reopen doors, he said.

Kinew said he found it to be “very glaring” Premier Brian Pallister was absent from Tuesday’s news conference.

“What is more important that’s going on in Manitoba today than this public health announcement? The premier should have been here to walk Manitobans through this proposal that he’s making — because at the end of the day, it is going to be him issuing this public health order.”

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said while he understands government may be under pressure to allow for limited visiting in people’s homes, he’s “very leery” of it and “a tiny minority of folks who keep taking the attitude that if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

— with files from Larry Kusch

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

History

Updated on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 2:36 PM CST: Updates story and adds graphics

Updated on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 2:58 PM CST: Updates headline, adds sidebar.

Updated on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 6:03 PM CST: Updates story to final version.

Updated on Wednesday, January 20, 2021 8:15 AM CST: Minor formatting changes

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