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Manitoba unveils phased plan to lift COVID-19 restrictions

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After weeks of cautious and muted messaging, Premier Brian Pallister's opening gambit to restart Manitoba's economy goes further than many expected.

"It's a day I think many of us have been looking forward to for quite some time," the premier said Wednesday, unveiling a multi-phase, 34-page reopening plan that can be scaled back if there's a future rise in COVID-19 cases.

Rules for reopening

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JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS						</p>																	<p>Signs and lines on the floor remind customers of the mandatory physical distance are posted everywhere in Seafood City in Winnipeg.						</p>
JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Signs and lines on the floor remind customers of the mandatory physical distance are posted everywhere in Seafood City in Winnipeg.

Posted: 29/04/2020 5:17 PM

Some non-essential businesses in Manitoba will welcome back customers on Monday after shuttering services to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

However, the risk of transmitting the virus remains, provincial chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said, and Manitobans heading into public spaces have to follow new rules of engagement.

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Starting Monday, outdoor patios, museums, libraries, hair salons, dental clinics and most retail businesses are among the places that can reopen, along with playgrounds, golf courses, tennis courts and campgrounds.

"It's about time for a trim for a lot of us," said Pallister, whose lengthy locks have added to his 6-8 height.

There are several conditions attached to the first phase of openings May 4.

All organizations and businesses (including clothing stores, ATV dealers and pet groomers) must limit capacity to 50 per cent of normal business levels. Restaurants can only offer outdoor patio seating, in addition to takeout and delivery service. Day camps can operate if they maintain physical distancing of two metres except for brief exchanges, a maximum of 16 children per site, and no sleepovers.

The novel coronavirus hit Manitoba later than most provinces, with its first official case March 12 and its first restrictions imposed March 16.

Thanks to vigilant handwashing, social distancing and self-isolating when required, Manitobans kept the number of new cases low, flattened the curve and allowed it to return to a "new normal" ahead of other provinces, the premier said. "Last in, first out."

Paving the way for Wednesday, Pallister had previously announced access to COVID-19 tests for any Manitoban with symptoms.

Estimates by researchers at Harvard University suggest the United States cannot safely reopen unless it conducts a daily minimum of 152 tests per 100,000 people. That works out to about 2,000 daily tests for a province the size of Manitoba — a number it will be able to hit in the weeks ahead, Pallister said.

Manitoba is not the first province to unveil a plan for lifting COVID-19 restrictions, but Pallister has been committed to it being the first to successfully carry one out.

"This isn't a victory lap," the premier said Wednesday, calling on Manitobans to remain committed to preventing the spread of the virus.

Services to be restored in phases

Public health officials will closely monitor the transmission of COVID-19 in the province as some non-essential businesses resume operations in Manitoba.

If criteria used by the province to support the relaxation of restrictions continues to be favourable, public health officials may reopen other segments of the economy in phases.

Public health officials will closely monitor the transmission of COVID-19 in the province as some non-essential businesses resume operations in Manitoba.

If criteria used by the province to support the relaxation of restrictions continues to be favourable, public health officials may reopen other segments of the economy in phases.

The first phase starts on May 4 and focuses on restoring services such as elective surgeries, diagnostic screenings, therapeutic and medical services, retail businesses, hair salons, museums, galleries and libraries, seasonal day camps, and outdoor recreation and campgrounds.

Phase two will begin no earlier than June 1. Public gathering sizes may be increased and more non-essential businesses may be able to open, including nail salons, restaurant dining rooms, non-contact children’s sports, and film productions.

Future phases, which do not have a timeline attached, may include the reopening of bars, pools and spas, movie theatres and “indoor recreational facilities.” The province may make specific considerations in the future for venues, tattoo parlours, and large gatherings or events.

Kindergarten to Grade 12 schools and post-secondary institutions were not part of the reopening strategy released Wednesday.

Public health officials warn restrictions will be put back in place if COVID-19 cases surge. 

"It is an adversary that is nefarious, sneaky and dangerous," said Pallister. "There must be no COVID comeback in our province."

Some of the most onerous public health orders issued issued March 20 — limiting gatherings to no more than 10, suspended visits to long-term care homes and hospitals, shuttered bars, gyms, and gaming facilities — remain in effect.

If Phase 1 goes well, starting June 1, Phase 2 could allow public gatherings such as church services, weddings and funerals, as well as the opening of nail salons, film productions, indoor restaurant service, and non-contact children's sports — as long as physical distancing can be maintained.

Future phases will be implemented on a three-to-four-week basis.

There won't be any concerts, mass gatherings or sporting events until at least September, Pallister said.

However, if the percentage of Manitobans testing positive for COVID-19 — 0.2 per cent as of Wednesday — rises to three to five per cent in the coming weeks, forget further restrictions being lifted, warned chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

"It's still a time of caution. If you do go out, physical distancing is important... We need to really be careful around those most susceptible to severe outcomes," Roussin said.

"We need to be cautious. We need to take it slow."

If there's a future outbreak, expect restrictions to be reimposed — a worrying thought for some who welcomed Wednesday's news.

"The last thing we want to do is go through a second wave of this," said Manitoba Chambers of Commerce president Chuck Davidson. "What's going to be critical is that these businesses take the precaution to follow proper protocols."

However, some won't be able to reopen May 4, even if they're allowed, he said.

"The reality is, a lot of businesses are dealing with not having a proper amount of equipment or staff," Davidson said. "Make sure you're taking the proper precautions and don't cut corners to be open for the sake of opening... Don't treat it as business as usual."

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the plan to lessen restrictions looks "reasonably safe," but he fears some businesses won't survive long enough to reopen.

"It's going to be an enormous challenge for many businesses who aren't going to make it across the finish line," said Lamont, who blamed the province for not providing direct financial aid to small businesses. "A lot of them aren't going to be around in June."

Meanwhile, the Opposition NDP voiced concerns parents won't be able to return to work or reopen their businesses next week because of a current lack of daycare spaces.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

   Read full biography

History

Updated on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 7:22 PM CDT: Fixes typo in deck

10:19 PM: Fixes typo

11:41 PM: Fixes typos.

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