May 28, 2020

11° C, Light rain showers

Full Forecast

Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?


Advertise With Us

COVID-19 preparations well underway: health minister

Friesen says public can help stop spread of virus; 'Our response takes all of us'

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen: “Our response takes all of us — all of us taking precautions.”</p>


Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen: “Our response takes all of us — all of us taking precautions.”

After stressing the importance of communication in preventing the spread of COVID-19, Manitoba’s health minister cut short a press conference after 16 minutes Tuesday without answering further questions from reporters about how the province is prepared to handle the virus once it arrives.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen was joined by Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, to announce that Manitoba is working with the Public Health Agency of Canada to bulk buy $35.2 million worth of personal protective equipment with other provinces and territories. The COVID-19 supplies include items such as procedure and surgical masks, N95 respirators, gloves, thermometer covers and sanitizer.

The press conference, held in the hallway outside Friesen’s office, was packed with reporters with many questions about the virus that claimed the life of its first Canadian this week, rocked world markets, prompted Air Canada to cancel flights to Italy and the Winnipeg Jets to ban reporters from the dressing room.

"The risk of acquiring COVID-19 in Manitoba remains low but as we see the transmission of this virus to other parts of the world, that risk is likely to increase over time and we need to be prepared for identification of this virus in Manitoba," Roussin said at the start of the press conference, noting that, as of Tuesday, there were still no laboratory-confirmed cases in Manitoba.

Friesen told reporters that Manitobans are "in this together," saying the public can help prevent the potential spread of the virus while health officials are doing everything they can to prepare for it.  

"Our response takes all of us — all of us taking precautions," Friesen said. "Maybe now is a good time, instead of shaking hands, to bump someone’s elbow."

He reminded Manitobans to wash their hands frequently, cough into their sleeve, not their hand, and to stay home when they’re sick. "Now is not a good time to see someone in a hospital or personal care home if you’re not feeling well." 

Roussin said there’s no plan to cancel public events and they’ve increased the number and scope of COVID-19 testing being done and the lab capacity to run the tests. All international travellers with symptoms and all severely ill people admitted to hospital intensive care units are now tested, he said. Soon they’ll be adding COVID-19 testing for all patients with respiratory symptoms, said Roussin. On Thursday, he said 97 Manitobans in total had been tested. Now, 40 tests per day are being conducted, Friesen told the house during question period late Tuesday.

At his morning press conference, Friesen said lessons were learned from the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 when there was a delay in receiving needed supplies. Now, before the first COVID-19 case is confirmed in Manitoba, it is the first province to sign onto the national procurement effort to get personal protective equipment to deal with it.

"We know that this will significantly increase the capacity should we need it," said Friesen before an emergency funding bill for the $35.2 million was passed in the house and given royal assent Tuesday.

He said he received assurances on Friday from federal counterparts that the order with other provinces and territories for supplies will be finalized quickly.

"They will work hard to get us the supplies we need not later but sooner."

In Manitoba, preparations for COVID-19 are well underway, Friesen said.

"Behind the scenes, Manitobans should understand there are comprehensive plans being made, significant work undertaken to inventory — to say ‘Where are we now? What capacity do we have? What would that look like if we need to go to this level, or this level or this level,’" the health minister said, without offering any examples of what action would be taken if there is an outbreak that escalates.

After question period, Premier Brian Pallister said communicating about Manitoba’s COVID-19 preparedness is a balancing act.

"I think there’s always a concern about balancing the need for preparedness and instilling confidence but making sure that confidence is justified and justifiable," he told reporters. "You don’t want to alarm people on the one hand; on the other hand, you want to make sure you address causative factors that may cause alarm."

Pallister said Manitoba is in better shape than any other province to withstand the economic hit of a COVID-19 outbreak. He said Manitoba has responded to a request by the federal government to share COVID-19 readiness issues ahead of the first ministers meeting in Ottawa Friday but did not say what those were. 

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the provincial government needs to share more details about its preparations with the public and those working on the front lines of the health-care system that’s still reeling from funding cuts. 

"There’s a bunch of these open questions that the government needs to address," Kinew told reporters outside the chamber. 

"For instance, the government has said everyone who presents with respiratory symptoms should be getting tested for COVID-19 — that hasn’t been communicated to the people on the front lines yet," said Kinew. "Why isn’t that happening?"

People need to know what the plan is if they’re not able to work in the event of a pandemic with major economic and health fallout, said Kinew, noting it’s "important to recognize we’re not there yet." 

"There does need to be a contingency plan should this actually turn into a recession or a severe economic crisis," Kinew said.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders

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.

Read full biography


Advertise With Us

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.


Advertise With Us