MANITOBA has provided no data showing faith-based gatherings are a significant source for spreading COVID-19, a former chief provincial medical health officer says.

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MANITOBA has provided no data showing faith-based gatherings are a significant source for spreading COVID-19, a former chief provincial medical health officer says.

Data collected by the province show less than one per cent of all reported COVID-19 cases have been associated with a faith-based gathering, Dr. Joel Kettner said in an affidavit report provided to a judge hearing a court challenge by seven Manitoba churches.

The churches allege pandemic restrictions imposed by the province violate their right to assembly and association. The hearing at a Winnipeg courtroom entered its second week Monday.

"It is reasonable to estimate that for people that attend (church) services four times the average Manitoban, less than one per cent of their awake time is spent in a place of worship," Kettner wrote.

"Without a clear and reasonable protocol to determine the likeliest source of exposure, the probability that transmission happen elsewhere — such as a retail outlet, educational setting, or restaurant, is, by exposure proportion, more likely."

Kettner was chief medical health officer for the province from 1999 to 2012, during which time he led the province’s response to both the SARS outbreak and the H1N1 pandemic.

"Technically, I saw a pandemic every year during my tenure as chief medical health officer," Kettner wrote. "It was called influenza."

For many years, the health system was taxed in the same way provincial officials say COVID-19 is taxing the system now, Kettner wrote.

Kettner argued the province has provided no accurate information as to its intensive care unit capacity or the degree to which it has been "overwhelmed" due to COVID-19.

"During flu seasons, most ICU patients have been diagnosed with influenza, and elective surgery and other procedures have been delayed for weeks," Kettner wrote. "As has been demonstrated many times in the past, the capacity of Manitoba’s health-care system to provide acute care may be stretched, but has not been exceeded."

The province has provided the public with no clear plan or strategy for fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, and no adequate support for the many restrictions it has imposed in the past 15 months, Kettner said.

Kettner has been an advocate of what has been called "focused protection," which targets measures at those considered at greatest risk.

"In clinical medicine, it is important that the treatment should not be worse than the disease," he wrote. "In public health, it is important that a prevention strategy is not worse than the disease."

Kettner was the last witness to testify at the hearing.

It resumes Wednesday for closing arguments.

Manitoba has recorded more than 2,000 new cases of COVID-19 over the past four days.

On Friday, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced a new round of restrictive measures, including a move back to remote learning for all Winnipeg and Brandon schools, and the suspension of restaurant dine-in services.

dean.pritchard@freepress.mb.ca

Dean Pritchard

Dean Pritchard
Courts reporter

Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.

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