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Coronavirus preparations on health critics' minds as MLAs head back to work

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Manitoba's legislative session resumed Wednesday and questions were raised about the province's preparedness for the eventual appearance of coronavirus cases.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Manitoba's legislative session resumed Wednesday and questions were raised about the province's preparedness for the eventual appearance of coronavirus cases.

As the legislative session resumed Wednesday, questions were raised about Manitoba's preparedness for the eventual appearance of coronavirus cases.

"Manitobans want to know if our hospitals are ready if infections arise," said NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara. "We are concerned if our system will be able to handle a surge in patients presenting to the ER with COVID-19."

Asagwara (Union Station) said there's an ongoing shortage of front-line staff in hospitals and a shortage of ICU beds in Winnipeg that has led to patients being transferred to rural facilities.

"Transferring patients around the province who are infected with COVID-19 is a serious risk," Asagwara said, adding there has been poor communication with health-care staff about protocols and procedures after nurses confirmed that a sick patient suspected of having COVID-19 on the weekend was left in a crowded waiting room at Children's Hospital rather than being isolated, according to protocol.

Liberal health critic Jon Gerrard said raising questions about the province's readiness to deal with the globally spreading virus is being done not to raise alarm, but to quell fears.

"Manitobans need to know that we're ready with a plan to help them stay as safe as possible in the likely case the virus reaches and spreads in Manitoba," said the former practising physician.

JESSICA BOTELHO-URBANSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>NDP MLA Uzoma Asagwara.</p>

JESSICA BOTELHO-URBANSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

NDP MLA Uzoma Asagwara.

"We want to make sure that this government actually has a plan in place for areas where COVID-19 could hit hard, like First Nation communities, personal-care homes and shelters like Siloam Mission and Main Street project."

Manitoba should have learned from past experience with the H1N1 flu, Gerrard (River Heights) said.

"Government must have a plan in place for those who live in close quarters and those with less direct access to hospitals," he said. "A detailed public plan will reduce the need for the public to panic."

Health Minister Cameron Friesen acknowledged the situation is "creating a lot of anxiety."

"That is a natural reaction; I'm confident that the government, through its principal agents, is taking all the necessary measures to protect the public health," said Friesen (Morden-Winkler).

He said the province has been in touch with mayors and municipal leaders to update them about measures put in place "if and when a case is found in Manitoba."

And the health minister said he met earlier Wednesday with the NDP and Liberal health critics to get them up to speed on the government's coronavirus preparations.

"The health of Manitobans is a non-partisan issue," Friesen said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, March 4, 2020 at 5:32 PM CST: Adds photo.

March 5, 2020 at 10:02 AM: corrects spelling of Jon Gerrard

10:49 AM: fixes typo

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