Province shows COVID-19 the door Top health official provides last regular public update, announces testing and vaccination sites to close
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Just days after lifting all pandemic restrictions, the provincial government signalled Wednesday its public battle against COVID-19 is all but over, announcing an end to regular updates and plans to close testing and vaccination sites.
“We know that COVID-19 very likely will be part of our lives for years to come, so we can’t wait for COVID-19 to be gone before we start our journey of healing,” chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin told reporters while delivering his last formal briefing virtually, rather than in person from his familiar spot at the legislature.
He announced 18 PCR testing sites will close as of Sunday, and vaccination clinics are also winding down operations over the next few weeks, although the RBC Convention Centre supersite will stay open “a while longer.”
Health officials will monitor transmission and the province will continue to report hospitalizations linked to the virus, Roussin said, describing that figure as the most important, though lagging, indicator of the state of the pandemic in Manitoba.
Roussin didn’t say what a future surge might look like for hospitals that are still in recovery mode, but noted the province’s modelling indicates admissions continue to show a downward trend.
Vaccination numbers and the tsunami of infections from the Omicron variant that raced through the population during the Christmas season suggest overall immunity is high, but he did not provide any hard data.
He said the province has plans to respond again if transmission spikes or a new variant explodes, but offered no details.
Roussin, who cited convenience as the reason he held the final briefing remotely, said despite the end of the province’s mask mandate Tuesday, he’ll continue to wear one “in crowded, indoor public places.”
He was asked whether he is worried about his own risk of contracting the virus in the absence of mandates and restrictions, but didn’t answer directly.
“I’ve always felt comfortable following the public-health restrictions that were in place,” he said.
Vaccines will be available at pharmacies and doctors’ offices and PCR tests will continue to be used for hospital patients and certain high-risk Manitobans, such as pre-op patients.
Regular briefings will return only if there is a significant increase in severe cases that put additional strain on the health-care system, Roussin said, thanking Manitobans for their efforts to slow the spread of the virus and adding it’s been “truly an honour” to share expertise from public-health officials with the public.
“There’s still a lot of work for public health to be addressing moving forward, much that we had to put somewhat on hold because of the response to COVID-19, and (we) have a tremendous team here at public health, so I look forward to continuing to work with them.”
— With files from Dylan Robertson
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, March 16, 2022 6:06 PM CDT: Adds photos
Updated on Wednesday, March 16, 2022 6:13 PM CDT: Embeds video