COVID risk, not protests, guides Manitoba’s restrictions
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This article was published 09/02/2022 (191 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Manitoba government will stick to following COVID-19 indicators, not protesters’ demands or neighbouring premiers, in deciding when to lift vaccination and mask requirements.
Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief provincial public health officer, said Wednesday restrictions will only be lifted in Manitoba when it is safe to do so.
“A handful of individuals who protest have no bearing on what public health recommends,” Atwal said at a COVID-19 media briefing. “It’s as simple as that.”
The province was able to safely begin lifting public health restrictions Tuesday — not because of noisy big-rigs causing a ruckus by the legislative grounds, but thanks to “the vast majority” of Manitobans who “have done what they’ve been asked to do.”
“The vast majority of people have followed the orders. The vast majority of Manitobans have gotten the vaccine,” said Atwal. “That’s basically why we’re in the position now where we can loosen things.”
Capacity limits at venues were relaxed, with 7,500 hockey fans allowed to see the Winnipeg Jets win a game at home on Tuesday instead of only 250, for example.
The virus has changed and the risk has decreased with the Omicron variant but we’re not out of the woods yet, Atwal warned.
“We still have our acute-care system to worry about, but things are improving there as well,” he said.
The government’s online pandemic dashboard said 680 people with COVID-19 were in hospital, as of Wednesday, including 43 in intensive care. Critical care admissions increased by three, but overall COVID-19 hospitalizations decreased by 17 since Tuesday.
Manitoba reported 12 deaths due to the virus — two men in their 60s, two men and two women in their 70s, four men in their 80s, and a woman in her 90s, all from Winnipeg; and a woman in her 80s from Southern Health.
Manitoba, meanwhile, will continue to monitor provinces to the west as they scrap public health restrictions.
On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced Alberta is ending its restrictions exemption program that allowed businesses to operate at greater capacity if patrons provided proof of vaccination. The Calgary Chamber of Commerce issued a statement Wednesday criticizing the move, saying it’s “akin to ripping the Band-aid off before the wound has healed.” Also on Tuesday, Premier Scott Moe announced Saskatchewan would no longer require proof of vaccination or a negative test effective as of Feb. 14 in an effort “to heal the divisions over vaccination.”
Manitoba is planning to further loosen restrictions over the coming weeks as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to fall.
“Dropping mandates, right off the bat, would have an impact on amount of transmission that would likely occur out there,” said Atwal. “We have to look at where our risk is,” he said.
“Our ICU numbers are still going to be high and will probably take about eight weeks to get down to a nadir where there might be only 10 or 15 people in ICU because of COVID,” he said.
Public health is reviewing virus activity in two-week cycles and that will determine when it is time to remove mask and proof of vaccination requirements, he said.
“We are actively monitoring the trends, data and surveillance to determine our next steps, with the goal of continuing to reduce restrictions over the long term and into the spring,” Atwal said Wednesday.
The protesters who’ve occupied Memorial Boulevard since Friday and parked tractors at the Broadway entrance to the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building, say they’re staying until the province lifts all restrictions. They have promised to limit horn honking following complaints by nearby residents.
On Wednesday, the chorus of people wanting them gone grew louder, with Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and city council considering a resolution urging the police and the province to do everything they can to end the protest.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said it’s time for Premier Heather Stefanson to use her “megaphone” and tell them to leave.
“The premier has been very silent on the issue so far,” Kinew said Wednesday.
“(Protesters) don’t represent the views of Manitobans,” the leader of the official Oppositions said. “There’s a clear consensus in Manitoba that vaccines work and that public health rules are important… It’s time for the government to listen to those folks.”
“You don’t want to do something that creates a response that is even worse.” – Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen
Kinew said the provincial government has many tools it could use to end the protest. Bylaw enforcement officers and the motor vehicles branch could inspect protesters’ trucks and vehicles for possible infractions, for instance, he said.
The premier didn’t comment Wednesday, but Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen called for calm and respect on all sides and said the Winnipeg Police Service is keeping the situation under control.
An enforcement crackdown could escalate frustrations, he said.
“You don’t want to do something that creates a response that is even worse,” Goertzen said, noting everyone is fed up with the pandemic and public health restrictions.
“The level of frustration with everybody is at a level we haven’t seen yet,” said the longtime MLA.
Goertzen said he expects public health restrictions will be lifted by spring and he hopes Manitobans will be able to respect each other and get along again.
“I’m still optimistic that we’re going to get to a better place.”
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Updated on Wednesday, February 9, 2022 8:42 PM CST: Updates headline