Manitoba public health officials will share their plans for a gradual reduction of pandemic restrictions on Wednesday after realizing the goal of fully vaccinating a quarter of the eligible population against COVID-19 ahead of schedule.
Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin told a noon-hour news conference Monday that further details on the province’s reopening strategy would be provided on Wednesday.
Current public health restrictions are in place until June 26, at 12:01 a.m.
"We have a lot of things we’re still considering at this point," Roussin said.
As of Monday, 25.4 per cent of Manitobans have been fully vaccinated and 71.2 per cent are partially immunized, according to provincial data.
With 301,000 second doses administered across the province, Manitoba reached its first target towards the rollback of public health measures at the end of day Sunday.
In the province’s "One Great Summer Reopening Path," the Manitoba government said if 70 per cent of the eligible population was partially vaccinated and 25 per cent was fully immunized by July 1, public health measures could be relaxed to allow for 25 per cent, or greater, opening capacity for businesses, services and facilities, as well as increased gathering sizes.
The province reached 70 per cent single dose vaccination coverage of the eligible population last Wednesday.
Previously, Premier Brian Pallister said Manitoba could move forward with reopening ahead of vaccine target dates, if immunization levels were reached ahead of schedule. However, the plan also stipulates COVID-19 levels must be low — including declining case counts, test positivity rates, and intensive care unit admissions.
Roussin was asked Monday why public health has not provided the COVID-19 benchmarks considered to be favourable for reopening. He said metrics such as case counts and test positivity are not independent of each other, making it difficult to provide specifics.
"The vaccine uptake sort of gives us an ability to set those targets," Roussin said. "The other sort of measures are real tough to have a significant goal post: you know, a specific number of people in hospital, a specific test positivity, a specific number of cases.
"There are so many variables in there that to set those goal posts out, we’re setting up to not necessarily rely on them even if we hit those targets, just because there’s so much interworking between those variables."
Roussin did not offer any insights into what new public health orders could hold for Manitobans but asked people to stay tuned.
The potential easing of restrictions in Manitoba comes on the heels of two Western provinces announcing that the majority of public health restrictions would be lifted in the coming weeks.
As of July 1, Alberta intends to move forward with a broad reopening and removal of restrictions followed by Saskatchewan on July 11. Both provinces have tied their reopening strategies to hitting 70 per cent vaccine coverage with a first dose.
Roussin said Manitoba public health officials are not feeling pressured to keep up with their counterparts to the west, but they will be watching the outcomes of other provincial reopening strategies closely.
"We were late to the third wave, so we’re weeks behind them on coming out of the third wave," Roussin said. "So we’re going to have to do things based on what we’re seeing here and where we are and move forward cautiously."
The top doctor said his team is also accounting for the more infectious Delta variant (B.1.617.2) in the reopening strategy and is putting a greater emphasis on second doses than in other jurisdictions.
On Monday, the province reported 74 new cases of COVID-19 and one more death: a woman in her 80s from the Winnipeg health region, linked to the B.1.1.7 variant of concern and an outbreak at Seven Oaks General Hospital 3U4-7.
The last time Manitoba reported fewer than 75 new infections was April 6.
The province’s five-day test positivity rate is eight per cent in Manitoba, and 6.9 per cent in Winnipeg.
Of the new cases announced Monday, 50 were in Winnipeg, 15 in Southern Health and three each in Interlake-Eastern, Prairie Mountain and the Northern health region.
A total of 246 Manitobans continue to be treated in hospital for COVID-19. Seventy-three remain in intensive care, including 15 patients outside the province.
Two more patients who were transported out of province have died, a spokesman for Shared Health said Monday. A total of nine Manitobans who were sent out of province for COVID-19 care have died.
Based on the latest epidemiology and surveillance report prepared by the provincial government, hospital admissions — which are a lagging indicator of the disease burden — are also trending downward. However, the current number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 is expected to remain high for the coming weeks, Roussin said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.
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