Province ignores business, public desires

Here is a COVID-19 pandemic question nobody seems to be able to answer.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/08/2021 (486 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Here is a COVID-19 pandemic question nobody seems to be able to answer.

Why has Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government — with its allegedly pro-business bent — ignored the business community when it came time to design a reopening plan?

It haunts sector leaders such as Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.

LM Otero - AP Masks are one of the simplest low-impact measures effective against COVID-19. Public opinion surveys in Canada show solid support for indoor mask mandates. (LM Otero / Associated Press files)

Earlier in the pandemic, the Pallister government regularly consulted with several dozen business groups before public health orders were amended. However, Davidson said, the PC government seems to have lost its appetite for such input.

“We’ve had zero contact, zero discussion with them in recent weeks,” he said.

If business groups had been consulted, Davidson said, they would have told Premier Brian Pallister to leave the indoor mask mandate in place and make better use of the vaccination passports to limit access to non-essential businesses to fully vaccinated customers.

Instead, the newest public health orders (that came into effect Saturday) leave those decisions up to individual businesses — which is causing a lot of stress to an already overstressed community.

Most businesses know mandating mask use and limits on non-vaccinated Manitobans are the two best ways to avoid further economic disruption, Davidson said.

“Masks and vaccine passports are not necessarily two issues that you would expect the chamber to support,” he said. “But businesses know that public health has to come first, and if these things can help us stay safe and reopen, then we should do them.”

It’s worth noting the Manitoba group is not alone in its stance.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce recently came out in support of Quebec’s plan to restrict access to non-essential businesses to the fully vaccinated in COVID-19 hotspots, starting this fall. The Toronto Region Board of Trade has called for a vaccine passport system for non-essential businesses.

Public opinion surveys in Canada show solid support for both indoor mask mandates and vaccine passports– two things Manitoba has decided to ignore.

The sector’s concern: if government goes too far, too soon, it not only opens the door to additional surges of COVID-19 but scares people away from going out and spending their money.

The United Kingdom, for example, ended all social and economic restrictions July 19, dubbed “Freedom Day,” in a bid to regain some sense of normalcy and jump-start the economy. In the weeks since, consumers have not necessarily responded with the same enthusiasm as the politicians.

A survey by CGA (a hospitality industry market research firm) found in the two weeks following Freedom Day, only 56 per cent of U.K. residents were going to pubs and restaurants. That was well below both pre-pandemic levels and what was seen in April, when the European nation’s third lockdown was eased.

What would make consumers more confident about going out in public and sharing indoor spaces with others? Public opinion surveys in Canada show solid support for both indoor mask mandates and vaccine passports — two things Manitoba has decided to ignore.

The province’s decision to abandon them is not only bad public health policy, it sends the wrong message to the gross majority of consumers, most of whom know full well we’re not out of the woods yet.

Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, have repeatedly claimed dramatically lower case counts, hospitalizations and deaths show we’re fast approaching a “post-pandemic Manitoba.” Unfortunately, those claims are being subverted on a daily basis by growing evidence the Delta variant — the most prevalent COVID-19 mutation now — is more dangerous than first believed.

Fully vaccinated people are well-protected against Delta, but the partially vaccinated still face considerable risk.

There is also a significant and worrisome surge of pediatric COVID-19 cases in many countries, including the United States. Infectious disease experts are not entirely sure whether Delta is sole cause, but cases among children 12 years of age or younger (not eligible to be vaccinated in most parts of the world) are already equal to the levels seen in January, during the deadly second wave.

Nobody wants to see another spike of new cases and the inevitable economic lockdown that would ensue. On that basis alone, it’s hard to explain why the Pallister government, along with other provinces, has chosen this path.

Although vaccine passports draw hard lines, masks allow the vaccinated and non-vaccinated alike to do more things, more safety. Masks also put the public in the enviable position of having its pandemic cake and eating it, too: reopened businesses and continued public safety.

If only government had listened to the people it was trying to help.

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.

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