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Canstar Community News
In normal times, Gilbert Desroches and his wife make the trek from Laclu, Ont., to visit their daughter and grandchildren in Winnipeg every two weeks.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing border closures, it’s now been more than two months since the pair have been able to travel across the Manitoba-Ontario border to spend time with their family and friends, or visit the doctor for non-emergent medical procedures, despite rules allowing Manitobans onto their side of the divide.
"We’re grandparents and love to see our grandkids as often as we can," Desroches said in an interview Sunday. "We Facetime, so you can talk to them every day if you want ... but it’s not like the real thing. Most of the time we’re in Winnipeg every couple weeks."
Manitoba and Ontario governments have held a 50-kilometre buffer zone inside northwestern Ontario — including Laclu and the Kenora area — where Manitoba residents are free to cross over and return home without a mandated 14-day isolation period. As part of Manitoba’s first reopening phase on May 4, the province gave the green light to seasonal cottagers looking to escape to their second homes, including those on the Ontario side of the border.
But for Desroches and other Ontarians with roots in Winnipeg, the rules are still more stringent. Any cross-border travel for the Ontario residents would mandate 14 days of self-isolation, time Desroches doesn’t want to spend away from his family in the city. Desroches, who is a frequent blood donor, said he’s been unable to donate blood at his usual clinics because they require those two weeks of isolation first.
"I guess it seems incongruous that Manitobans can come over ... they come here they go back home, there’s no self isolation. Yet I can’t go to Winnipeg without self-isolating," he said.
"If Manitobans are allowed to come here within the 50-kilometre rule and everybody’s happy, well I think we would be happy if we could do the same."
Desroches said life on either side of the border is still starkly different. Where Manitoba announced Friday that indoor public gatherings could increase to a maximum of 25 people while outdoor gatherings would be capped at 50 people, Ontario’s gatherings are still restricted to five at a time.
As Manitoba began lifting restrictions to allow businesses to reopen, Kenora Mayor Dan Reynard was warning cottagers to stay home if possible, and avoid the popular Lake of the Woods area where business restrictions were still in place.
Desroches said he finds the rules for Ontarians to be a confusing double standard. While he agrees with the motive behind the restrictions, Desroches said the Kenora community has been maintaining strict public safety regulations, and residents should be allowed to travel safely and freely into the big city.
"If we were a hotbed for COVID-19 I would say no, I agree, but we’ve hardly had any cases and they’re very old at this point," he said.
Desroches is hoping that northwestern Ontario residents who live within the 50-kilometre buffer zone will be allowed to come and go with ease as part of the province’s next reopening phase, which is set to come into effect no earlier than June 1. In that phase, restaurants and bars would be allowed to open, indoor dining areas, tattoo parlours will be allowed to operate again with limited capacity, and non-contact adult and children’s sports would resume.
Last week, Premier Brian Pallister released a draft plan for the second phase of reopenings, however, no date was set for the changes. Pallister said there would be public consultation and the plan could be pushed back if pandemic numbers rise.
Manitoba announced no new cases of COVID-19 as of Sunday morning, with the total lab-confirmed and probable positive cases holding steady at 292. No one was being treated in hospital. There were 17 active cases and 268 individuals have recovered from COVID-19. The number of deaths due to COVID-19 remains at seven.
As of Saturday, an additional 729 laboratory tests were performed, bringing the total number of tests performed since early February to 38,599. Now, Manitoba is beginning to test people without symptoms for COVID-19 as part of a sentinel surveillance program to track the circulation of the coronavirus. Health officials hope to collect a random sampling of swabs from Manitobans at health-care facilities and community screening sites.
The province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said a decision on a date for the next phase of changes would likely come soon.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a general-assignment reporter.
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