Manitoba's COVID-19 recovery plan will be released next week, just before strict public health measures that have locked down much of the province expire on June 12.

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Manitoba's COVID-19 recovery plan will be released next week, just before strict public health measures that have locked down much of the province expire on June 12.

Premier Brian Pallister promised to outline his government's strategy to rebound from the third wave of COVID-19, at a news conference Thursday where he announced a grant program to increase vaccination rates.

"I do think that it is important to put that hope in the window, and I do think it’s really important to understand that the limiting factor for all of us now is really vaccine levels," the premier said.

As of Thursday, 63.5 per cent of Manitobans eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine had received at least one dose.

But to have a shot at a sustained reopening, Pallister said vaccination rates need to far exceed 75 per cent of the population.

"If we have 400,000 Manitobans unprotected, we’re looking at a fourth wave," Pallister said. "That’s why we’re pushing real hard for more vaccines."

Few details about the province’s plans for reopening were shared on Thursday, but like other provinces, the lifting of pandemic restrictions will be linked to immunization rates.

The premier said the reopening strategy will include "some reference to the benefits that would accrue to people" who have been fully vaccinated.

"I think we’re in a dynamic time where I would rather see us bestow benefits on people who pursue vaccines as opposed to suggesting that everybody else is limited," the premier said.

As an interim measure, the premier said the province could extend "extra advantage" to vaccinated individuals, as was done Wednesday night when 500 fully immunized health-care workers were permitted to attend a Stanley Cup playoff match between the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens.

"To not give these benefits is to say that all of us will have to be in lockdown until everyone is vaccinated and I don’t think that’s a realistic model for us to follow," the premier said.

"None of us want to see divisions in our society among our friends and neighbours based on this issue, but we have to have public safety as the first priority."

On Thursday, Manitoba reported five deaths due to COVID-19 and 360 new infections. Thirty-nine Manitobans who were critically ill with the disease were being treated at hospitals outside of the province as of Thursday, and other 68 COVID-19 patients were being treated in intensive care units in Manitoba.

A total of 297 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Manitoba hospitals on Thursday.

Pallister said the province has struck an advisory committee, co-chaired by epidemiologist Cynthia Carr and Economic Development Winnipeg CEO Dayna Spiring, to provide advice on encouraging vaccination uptake and reopening safely.

Spiring said the committee first convened on Wednesday and was scheduled to meet again Friday with two important agenda items: increasing vaccination rates and safe reopening plans.

"I am very focused on economic growth and economic development," Spiring said. "We need to start to open up our economy. We need to make sure we do that safely, but we have to get moving.

"We’re trying to do that in a balanced way. And this group has both perspectives," said Spiring.

She said committee members are prepared to spend a significant amount of time tackling the complexities of a reopening strategy while increasing immunization rates.

"We’re watching other jurisdictions open up and I understand the pressures that we’re under, but at the same time we have to be mindful of our economy," Spiring said.

"My vested interest is becoming the fastest recovering economy in Canada. That’s my big, audacious goal," she added. "How we do that is going to depend entirely on vaccination rates and it’s going to depend entirely on how we’re able to flatten this curve that Manitoba is being hit with."

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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