Editorial

And so, at last, after nearly two years of restrictions and sacrifice and frustration and bewilderment at what government did, didn’t do and might have done, this is where we have arrived:

And so, at last, after nearly two years of restrictions and sacrifice and frustration and bewilderment at what government did, didn’t do and might have done, this is where we have arrived:

We’re on our own. We have to look after ourselves. Government can’t protect us from COVID-19’s latest iteration.

‘It’s up to Manitobans to look after themselves’: premier

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<p>MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES						</p>																	We must learn to live with the virus says Premier Heather Stefanson.						</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

We must learn to live with the virus says Premier Heather Stefanson.

Posted: 7:00 PM Jan. 12, 2022

As the Omicron variant roars across the province, Manitoba’s premier has conceded the public — and not the government — must be responsible for limiting its spread.

“This virus is running throughout our community and it’s up to Manitobans to look after themselves,” Premier Heather Stefanson told reporters Wednesday.

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Flanked by her minister of health and supported by two senior public-health officials, Premier Heather Stefanson on Wednesday told Manitobans to accept that all of us are eventually going to be exposed to COVID-19, so the best we can expect from her government is an earnest effort to "balance" the health impacts of the virus against the financial and social impacts of imposing measures aimed at limiting its spread.

"We must learn to live with this virus," the premier intoned, repeating a phrase often voiced by the province’s chief public health officer, but imbuing it with an air of resignation that led one opposition leader to conclude the Stefanson government has "thrown in the towel" on trying to fight the Omicron surge.

Ms. Stefanson restated that stricter public-health restrictions will not be imposed, despite the dizzying daily case-number reports and the fact the province’s abandonment of reliable testing, reporting and contact tracing means whatever numbers are released publicly are only a fraction of actual Omicron-infection rates.

When asked if public-health officials had recommended stricter measures than have been imposed, Manitoba’s deputy chief public health officer’s first attempt to reply was interrupted by the premier, who then essentially evaded the question. A second query to the health expert elicited a cautiously framed non-answer whose clear subtext was an implied affirmative.

Ms. Stefanson then cemented the province’s position on public-health expertise at this stage of the pandemic: "At the end of the day, we’ll be taking advice from public health, but we’ll be taking advice from other Manitobans moving forward."

The Omicron horse is out of the barn, it seems, and what’s left for Manitoba’s government is to stand there and watch it run. It’s at full gallop in other jurisdictions, as well, but where provinces such as Ontario and Quebec have imposed additional restrictions in an effort to slow its pace, Manitoba seems inclined to simply let the horse tire itself out.

<p>MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson

The province will continue to encourage vaccinations, because they remain our best way out of the COVID-19 catastrophe. Getting those shots will remain up to us, however, as Ms. Stefanson’s government maintains — owing, one assumes, to careful political calculus — that imposing a more forceful vaccine mandate remains on the "won’t do" side of the pandemic-response ledger.

The premier also reasserted that Manitoba schools will return fully to in-person learning on Monday. That declaration was followed Thursday by a briefing by Education Minister Cliff Cullen and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin in which Manitobans were told schools will no longer inform parents about close COVID-19 contacts in their kids’ classrooms, opting instead to provide recurring reports on absenteeism and recommending that schools employ rapid antigen testing or cut down on higher-risk activities at times of high spread.

"We need to not frame this as abandoning anything," Dr. Roussin insisted. "It’s shifting our approach."

As the person who has been the face of Manitoba’s pandemic response for two years and a consistent voice of reason, reassurance and rational explanation, it would be comforting to take his statement at face value.

That would only be possible, however, if one had not seen the calamitous abdication of responsibility that was the previous day’s briefing. One can only wonder if Dr. Roussin feels as if he’s on his own, too.