More KN95 masks were shipped to Manitoba and are being given to rural Liquor Marts for people to pick up, but the minister responsible said Thursday the government doesn’t want to “compete” with retailers that sell the respirator masks.

More KN95 masks were shipped to Manitoba and are being given to rural Liquor Marts for people to pick up, but the minister responsible said Thursday the government doesn’t want to "compete" with retailers that sell the respirator masks.

"They are readily available for sale at many commercial operations, so we don’t really want to compete with them too much," Central Services Minister Reg Helwer said. "The option for the distribution through Liquor and Lotteries was the quickest way to get them out to the public. We distributed over a million masks within a day and a half."

Helwer made those comments after being asked whether the government will give out free masks in other places. He said all MLAs — in government and both opposition parties — received masks to hand out at their constituency offices or distribute how they choose.

He said he took a pallet of boxed masks to a Liquor Mart in Brandon last week and distributed some from his office and the office of Brandon East MLA Len Isleifson.

"We continue to look at our inventory to see how we can help Manitobans and how we can best get these masks into their hands."

No plan to expand availability of free masks was announced. Some advocates for safe schools have called on the government to make N95s free for all Manitobans and require their use under provincial mask mandates as a more protective measure instead of relying on one-layer cloth masks.

On Dec. 22, Helwer announced the distribution of KN95 masks to government-run liquor stores and casinos in Winnipeg. On Thursday, a provincial spokesman said another 600,000 masks were being delivered to Liquor Marts in rural Manitoba.

The province faced criticism for giving out what appeared to be expired masks. A printing error on the boxes indicated a shelf life of one year after a production date of May 2020. The government said the masks are good for three years before they’re considered expired.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.