Editorial

In the never-ending cycle of COVID-19-related updates and announcements, it seems like a long-ago memory: Premier Brian Pallister, holding up a sample of Manitoba’s proof-of-vaccination card and outlining some of the privileges that would be afforded to those who kept faith with the province’s pandemic plan by becoming fully vaccinated against the virus.

In the never-ending cycle of COVID-19-related updates and announcements, it seems like a long-ago memory: Premier Brian Pallister, holding up a sample of Manitoba’s proof-of-vaccination card and outlining some of the privileges that would be afforded to those who kept faith with the province’s pandemic plan by becoming fully vaccinated against the virus.

At the time, it felt like a sensible gesture from a government that had implored Manitobans to believe the science and accept that vaccination is the best — perhaps the only? — path out of the pandemic. Buy into the plan, and benefits would follow, in the form of reinstated normal-life privileges. Continue to refuse vaccination, however — which is one’s right — and the consequence would be continued exclusion from those activities we have all so sorely missed.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

But that was then — on June 8, which really isn’t all that long ago — and Manitobans are suddenly thrust into a now in which fully-vaccinated status has become largely meaningless in settings in which the premier suggested it would hold great sway.

Tuesday’s announcement of aggressively relaxed pandemic restrictions drew immediate scorn from critics who say Mr. Pallister appears to have learned nothing from Manitoba’s first two caseload calamities. With the dangerous Delta variant on the rise across North America and clearly gaining a foothold here, the premier has decided to dispense with mandated masks and eliminate capacity and vaccination-status restrictions on almost all public gatherings.

"We have to learn how to live with COVID, as well as the other endemic respiratory viruses, as we move forward," said chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

In New York City, "living with" COVID-19 includes still-embedded precautions, including the requirement for proof of vaccination before entering restaurants, gyms and other businesses. "It is time for people to see vaccination as literally necessary to living a good and full and healthy life," said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s announcement of aggressively relaxed pandemic restrictions drew immediate scorn from critics who say Mr. Pallister appears to have learned nothing from Manitoba’s first two caseload calamities.

Not so in Manitoba. As of Saturday, restaurants and bars can open at full capacity, with no provincially mandated consideration of customers’ vaccination status. Individual businesses will have the option to impose their own requirements — a measure that seems perfectly designed for the creation of public confrontations.

In defending the decision to roll back the majority of restrictions while concern over the Delta variant is rising, Mr. Pallister seemed to suggest what’s happening elsewhere does not figure into Manitoba’s thinking. "Not every jurisdiction ... has got the same epidemiology, not every jurisdiction is in the same place. We’re in a good place right now — and yahoo to that," he said.

Surely the premier needs no reminding that Manitoba was "in a good place" when he unveiled the ill-considered "Ready. Safe. Grow." reopening plan last August, just in time for the pandemic’s second-wave walloping, and that this province was "in a good place" last spring, just before Manitoba became the nation’s COVID-19 hotspot, with overrun intensive-care wards forcing the export of patients to other provinces.

Rather than "yahoo-ing" the current pandemic lull and lifting crucial anti-virus measures in a way that mirrors the premature reopenings in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Mr. Pallister might instead have considered the fate of another restriction-averse jurisdiction: Florida — where state leaders have actually mocked pandemic-mitigation measures — which is currently setting daily records for caseloads and hospitalizations.

Not the same epidemiology, to be sure. But the current Floridian crisis surely offers a cautionary note that might have been instructive to a leader considering a massive rollback of local restrictions.