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Premier Brian Pallister wasn’t mincing words Friday in what was probably his most forceful and frank messaging to the public since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.
"I have very little patience for those who are so thoughtless and stupid as to ignore the wellbeing of themselves and others," the premier said during his morning news conference. He was responding to questions about reports of those still not following social distancing rules.
"(This) is a monumental challenge we’re facing right now and it doesn’t need to be added to by dumb," he said.
As the number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Manitoba continues to rise – and as another Manitoba life was lost to the disease, bringing the total to two – Pallister’s tone is taking on a heightened level of urgency. The war against an "invisible enemy" can’t be won through government action alone, he said. Manitoba will only overcome the pandemic if everyone joins the fight.
That means not only abiding by social distancing rules, and all of the recommendations made by public health officials – such as washing your hands frequently and staying home. It means if you see others not following the rules, help government by persuading people to do the right thing, he said.
"Let’s be real, the numbers are going to continue to rise," said Pallister. "The question is, how fast will those numbers rise – and that’s the part that only Manitobans really are in charge of right now."
Pallister was equally blunt about calls for the province to provide estimates on fatalities from COVID-19, similar to what Ontario released Friday.
“There’s tremendous desire for people to know the end of this story, right? The challenge is, none of us do.” – Premier Brian Pallister
"There’s tremendous desire for people to know the end of this story, right?" said Pallister. "The challenge is, none of us do."
Ontario released estimates Friday that suggest the death toll from the virus that causes COVID-19 could range between 3,000 and 15,000. However, even officials from that province admit the projections are preliminary and will be reviewed as time goes on.
The reality is, no one knows what the death toll will be, said Pallister, who questioned how helpful Ontario’s numbers are in the fight against the pandemic.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford suggested Thursday he wanted to put the numbers out in part to shock into compliance people who weren’t following social distancing rules.
That’s something Pallister said he wasn’t interested in doing.
"There are disadvantages in putting out numbers which may frankly be totally inaccurate," the premier said. "I’m not interested in trying to scare the hell out of everybody in the province just so that some people start to pay attention."
You can’t blame him. What if the numbers are substantially higher than what Ontario is predicting? If the estimates are supposed to help governments plan for things such as hospital capacity and medical equipment, false projections could undermine those efforts.
Manitoba does plan to release some "modelling" next week, said Pallister. But he added government doesn’t know how bad it may get.
“I would hope all Manitobans would understand, this is guesswork and the real work is being done on the front lines of our health care system right now.” – Premier Brian Pallister
"I would hope all Manitobans would understand, this is guesswork and the real work is being done on the front lines of our health care system right now," he said.
Pallister took questions on the wide range of actions the province is now taking to combat the virus. Those include plans for expanded hospital space, new isolation units for the homeless, and procurement for more personal protection equipment for health-care staff. Pallister said he continues to push the federal government to create a credit agency that would let provinces borrow money at a reduced interest rate.
But the focus on personal responsibility in the battle against the pandemic was a recurring theme during Pallister’s one-hour press conference. The decisions each of us make in the coming weeks will make the difference between how many people live and how many people die, he said.
"Please continue to do the right things to protect yourself, to protect others," said Pallister. "Be kind, be patient, be supportive, don’t hoard supplies and try to resell them for more, don’t play football…and make the necessary decisions that will help save lives."
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.
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