Manitoba’s new pandemic rules doomed to fail

Manitoba has been presented with a rare opportunity to sidestep the worst of the delta-inspired fourth wave of COVID-19. Unfortunately, rather than doing what needs to be done, the Progressive Conservative government is once again tinkering while the pandemic burns its way through the health-care system.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/10/2021 (493 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba has been presented with a rare opportunity to sidestep the worst of the delta-inspired fourth wave of COVID-19. Unfortunately, rather than doing what needs to be done, the Progressive Conservative government is once again tinkering while the pandemic burns its way through the health-care system.

On Friday, Health Minister Audrey Gordon and Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, outlined a series of minor changes to public health orders that, on their own, shouldn’t be expected to stem the rise of the fourth wave.

All metrics associated with the novel coronavirus are moving in the wrong direction. Case counts are starting to climb again, as are ICU and general hospital admissions. Although a disproportionate number of the new cases are from the notoriously under-vaccinated Southern Health region, Winnipeg is also seeing an increase.

ALEX LUPUL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Health and Seniors Care Minister Audrey Gordon.

And what did the Tory government do at this pivotal moment? It might be easier to tell you what it didn’t do.

They weren’t prepared to really restrict the activities of non-vaccinated Manitobans.

Although previous public health orders prevent the unvaccinated from attending sporting or cultural events or visiting bars, restaurants, movie theatres or fitness centres, the new public health orders continue to allow anyone without a COVID-19 vaccine to do pretty much what they were doing before, albeit in slightly smaller numbers.

When these new rules kick in Oct. 5, unvaccinated citizens will still be allowed to shop in non-essential businesses, attend faith-based services, visit other households and travel back and forth from neighbouring regions or provinces without quarantine requirements.

The province was also not prepared to limit the movements of unvaccinated Manitobans within the province. Even though fewer people are allowed to visit non-essential businesses in the Southern Health region, they are free to drive to Brandon or Winnipeg, where capacity reductions are not being implemented.

There was also no effort to expand vaccine mandates more broadly in private workplaces. Previous public health orders allowed unvaccinated Manitobans to continue working in retail and hospitality businesses, even as admission to those businesses was restricted to the fully vaccinated.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, speaks during a COVID-19 update at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

The rules unveiled Friday confirm, once again, this government is unable, or unwilling, to acknowledge two fundamental realities about the pandemic and how its raging in the southern-most region of the province.

First, the majority of the unvaccinated are not just averse to needles, they are indifferent to social and economic restrictions. Over the summer, news organizations including the Free Press documented the flouting of basic pandemic rules in communities in southern Manitoba, and the inability of public health officials to enforce those rules.

And second, given the nature of the virus, it really only takes one unvaccinated person to spark an outbreak.

Allowing any number of unvaccinated Manitobans to assemble indoors for a household gathering or church service creates an unreasonable risk. Cutting down on the number of unvaccinated people visiting someone else’s home, or attending that service, does not substantially reduce that risk.

The most troubling aspect of Friday’s public health orders is that they, once again, provide an example of Tory government doing exactly what medical and scientific experts outside government have been begging them to not do.

We’ve suffered enough to know that tinkering only delays the surge, it does not avoid it.

In the prelude to both the second and third waves, external experts begged the provincial government and public health officials to act more urgently to curb transmission. In both instances, government refused and in doing so, triggered what were, at that time, the worst COVID-19 outbreaks on the continent.

We’ve suffered enough to know that tinkering only delays the surge, it does not avoid it.

What does work? Short, intense lockdowns — measured in weeks, not months — curb surges and give us time to vaccinate more people. That is more important than ever given that targets for vaccine-driven herd immunity are moving once again.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief medical officer of health, said Friday it may be necessary to vaccinate 80 per cent of all Canadians to contain the delta variant, as opposed to 80 per cent of those 12 and over.

The province said Friday that 81 per cent of eligible Manitobans are fully vaccinated. But that’s only 68 per cent of the entire population. An incredible 445,000 people are still unvaccinated, either by choice or because they are too young for a vaccine.

We need time to get to that higher threshold, and the approach from Gordon and Roussin is simply not going to get the job done.

The new rules outlined Friday are confusing, utterly unenforceable and, thus, doomed to fail. The only way to stop household gatherings — indoors or outdoors — from contributing to surging case counts is to ask all Manitobans to stay in their own homes for a few weeks.

We have a very slim chance to avoid being crushed by the fourth wave — but only if we abandon a strategy that we all know has only ended in tragedy.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

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.

History

Updated on Friday, October 1, 2021 7:37 PM CDT: Fixes typo.

Updated on Friday, October 1, 2021 8:14 PM CDT: changes amount to number

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