Fundamental failure Latest loosened restrictions disregard science and common sense

Who in Manitoba is stupid enough to take pandemic advice from this government?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/03/2021 (743 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Who in Manitoba is stupid enough to take pandemic advice from this government?

After the events of the last three days, that can surely be the only question on the minds of many people in this province.

Starting Friday, there has been a modest but steady increase in the daily total of COVID-19 cases in the province, and in Winnipeg. We’re still a long way off from where we were late last year, but test positivity provincewide and in Winnipeg has stubbornly lingered above the three-per-cent target that has typically been used to trigger escalations in public health restrictions.

At the very same time, there has been a notable increase in the number of confirmed cases involving highly contagious COVID-19 variants. There were 18 new cases reported Monday, a 78-per-cent increase that brings our total to 41.

How has the Progressive Conservative government of Manitoba responded to these worrisome milestones?

At the very same time the trend lines were threatening to begin a slow and inevitable climb back into crisis territory, this government made a surprising and somewhat hasty announcement that significant numbers of Manitobans could now gather indoors without masks on.

The province issued a news release outlining what it called “minor changes” to public health orders in the early afternoon on Friday that would take effect first thing Saturday morning. Although the language around the changes is needlessly complicated, the end result is that now, up to 100 people attending an indoor church service can go maskless as long as they sit only with people from their own household, distance themselves from other groups, and are not singing.

As well, up to six people from different households can now share the same table at a restaurant or bar, as long as it’s outside.

The lateness of the announcement, the attempt to portray significant changes as “minor,” and the lack of advanced warning to those most affected are all signs that Premier Brian Pallister was trying to dodge public scrutiny on these changes. And for good reason — they defy logic.

Not that efforts weren’t made after the fact to explain what had happened.

On Monday, Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, once again seemed to be sounding all the right notes.

He acknowledged it was essential to be cautious about removing restrictions given that we’re months away from establishing herd immunity through vaccinations. Roussin also noted that with the variants posing a significant new threat, it was important to be socially distanced and wear masks.

But when it came to explain the most recent changes, Roussin quickly changed tack and talked about how restrictions also take a toll on the health of Manitobans. He said that cautiously easing restrictions would allow Manitoba to maintain a balance between essential protection and some personal liberties.

Most remarkably, Roussin said the decision to allow up to 100 people indoors to go maskless was defensible. “I don’t think it adds a lot of risk.”

With respect to the province’s top doc, it is getting harder to believe that he believes what he is saying.

Roussin is undoubtedly aware that infectious disease experts here and around the world believe that mask use is essential to hold the virus in check while vaccine programs unfold. And that the very things that we are allowing now are running head-on into the best pandemic advice.

“I don’t think it adds a lot of risk.”
– Roussin on the decision to allow up to 100 people indoors to go maskless

Ironically, on the very same day Manitoba announced it was easing restrictions, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study showing that easing of mask mandates and restaurant dining — both indoor and outdoor — were directly connected to significant increases in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and death.

With everything taken into consideration, how do we make sense of a decision to allow worshippers to go maskless in church services and to expand the number of people allowed to gather on restaurant and bar patios? We cannot because it’s nonsensical.

If we use the criteria espoused by Roussin, we should only ease restrictions in situations when we can be sure the risk of contracting COVID-19 is negligible.

That is not what is happening here.

Surely, the most important thing government can do right now is to allow as many people as possible to safely eat in restaurants and attend faith-based services while employing all of the best practices for reducing the chance of infection: hand hygiene, social distancing and — most importantly — wearing a mask at all times.

While you need to be maskless to eat in restaurants, you do not need to be maskless to attend an indoor church service. Removing the mask requirement in churches is a purely political decision, completely devoid of any concern about public health and safety or scientific evidence.

The really worrisome part of this gratuitous disregard of science and common sense is that it’s not the first time it’s happened.

Throughout the pandemic, the Pallister government and its public health officials have made bad decisions that ran against the best epidemiological evidence available at the time while offering little in the way of explanation.

The saving grace is that, having seen this show before, most Manitobans are too smart to follow the idiotic advice they’re getting right now. Perhaps government could follow their example and smarten up.

Dan Lett

Dan Lett

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.


Updated on Monday, March 15, 2021 8:18 PM CDT: Fixes typo.

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