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Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the province needs to dial back its reopening strategy in Brandon, which has a cluster of 40 COVID-19 cases, with about half involving workers at the Maple Leaf pork plant.
Currently, Manitoba is in Phase Four of its reopening strategy, which allows for more people to sit in bars and restaurants as long as they can maintain a two-metre distance, and a greater number of people can gather at indoor and outdoor events, for example. There is no mask mandate in the province, but people are advised to wear one in crowded indoor places.
Lamont said Brandon should revert to earlier stages of the phased-in reopening plan because he worries there is a risk of greater community transmission.
On Sunday, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said a small number of the cases in Brandon may have been transmitted in the community, but most involve people who are close contacts of each other.
A second cluster is located in the Steinbach area.
Lamont said the government should be willing to roll back the reopening plan in any COVID-19 hot spot in the province, instead of sticking to one plan for such a large geographic area.
He also said the government's pandemic communications strategy creates confusion and does a disservice to the public when information about outbreaks is not specific. For example, Roussin won't specifically say the Maple Leaf plant is involved. Instead, he refers to a business in Brandon.
The government argues it doesn't want to stigmatize groups of people. It refused to be specific even after the media had reported that the outbreak is at the meat plant.
Lamont said safety must be the "paramount concern."
"People fill in what they don't know with rumours and speculation," he said.
Lamont said many of the workers at the Brandon meat plant come from foreign countries such as Mexico and the Philippines, live together in close quarters and cannot self-isolate. He suggested the City of Brandon should look at setting up an isolation centre to help contain the spread of the virus.
He said the Tory government all but declared the pandemic over in Manitoba by encouraging people to travel and businesses to reopen quickly. He pointed out that people don't know where to travel if they are not specifically told by the government where an outbreak is occurring, other than in specific health regions, which are vast places.
On Sunday, Roussin did say changes would be made this week in terms of information posted on the provincial COVID-19 website. Data will be broken down by health districts within each health authority. Currently they are listed under one of the five authorities.
"This will allow us to break down case numbers in more detail while continuing to ensure the privacy of Manitobans," he said.
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