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Manitoba plans for construction of temporary COVID-19 hospitals

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With the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations expected to soar in the coming weeks, Manitoba has put out a call to set up eight temporary hospitals — in three regions of the province — including as many as four in Winnipeg.

The facilities would each accommodate between 60 and 120 patients.

The province issued the request for proposal Monday for "low-acuity alternatives for hospitals to be prepared for all potential scenarios" in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Judging from the time frame, the provincial government isn't expecting the coronavirus emergency to end anytime soon.

Premier Brian Pallister says the province is contemplating stricter measures and stepped up enforcement to ensure Manitobans follow social-distancing guidelines. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Premier Brian Pallister says the province is contemplating stricter measures and stepped up enforcement to ensure Manitobans follow social-distancing guidelines. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

"Manitoba anticipates there may be a need between mid-April and July of 2020," the formal RFP from Manitoba Finance procurement services says, seeking temporary hospitals to treat non-critical patients in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson.

The two facilities in Brandon would accommodate up to 120 people each; two facilities in Thompson would care for up to 60 people each.

Successful bidders need to be able to mobilize within 24 to 48 hours to construct the space — complete with washrooms, linen, food services and a panel system for separation, with at least two metres between cots. The closing date for bids is April 13.

Meanwhile, Premier Brian Pallister and the province's chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said Monday the province is contemplating stricter measures and stepped up enforcement.

Premier has support for credit program

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister claims he has the support of all other premiers for his recent proposal that Ottawa create a credit mechanism to borrow money on the provinces’ behalf during the pandemic.

Pallister said the move would save provinces millions of dollars in interest costs because the federal government can borrow money at cheaper rates.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister claims he has the support of all other premiers for his recent proposal that Ottawa create a credit mechanism to borrow money on the provinces’ behalf during the pandemic.

Pallister said the move would save provinces millions of dollars in interest costs because the federal government can borrow money at cheaper rates.

“All provinces are going to be on the hook for billions and billions of dollars in new debt to pay for health-care and economic recovery programs,” Pallister said Monday. “This is a sensible and available way Ottawa can make it cheaper for all of us to do so now.”

The premier said Manitoba's interest savings over a 10-year period could exceed $1 billion.

Ottawa has yet to formally respond.

However, Stephen Poloz, governor of the Bank of Canada, has been cool to the idea, saying it’s the availability of credit, not the cost of it, that’s the issue for provincial governments.

The head of the C.D. Howe Institute, a leading economics think tank, said Pallister is raising legitimate issues, but disagreed with the premier's proposal.

"The feds can’t just underwrite the provinces, without some say in what the provinces are doing with their budget balances," Bill Robson told the Free Press.

Robson said getting Ottawa to borrow on behalf of the provinces could eventually cause raise the federal interest rate the premier is trying to tap into. To avoid it, the federal government would likely encroach onto provincial spending decisions, undermining federalism.

— Dylan Robertson and Larry Kusch

"It's a concern when people refuse to understand the hurtful consequences of their thoughtless conduct," Pallister said, referring to reports of individuals and groups defying social distancing rules.

"We're definitely taking a look at some additional steps, sadly," the premier told a news briefing.

Pallister added he will have something to announce in "the not-too-distant future," after government receives advice on how best to proceed.

Roussin said he expects Manitobans to follow the orders already in place. The province will examine any way it can to enforce social-distancing rules and limits to gatherings, he said, adding lives are at stake.

"We're going to continue to escalate orders, as necessary," said Roussin. "We need Manitobans to realize this is serious."

Officials are concerned some Manitobans won't stay home during the upcoming Easter and Passover celebrations. They're also nervous about folks flocking to cottage country as the weather warms up.

The public health chief said he's also heard reports about churches around the province planning to hold in-person services.

Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin and Shared Health's chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa on their way to the daily briefing, where Roussin dissuaded people from letting their guards down. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin and Shared Health's chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa on their way to the daily briefing, where Roussin dissuaded people from letting their guards down. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"We know that it's challenging to stay away from events like this for many Manitobans, but it's vital," said Roussin, who has invoked the Public Health Act in prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 persons. Everyone needs to adhere to social-distancing regulations — and that includes faith-based organizations, he said.

"From other jurisdictions, we know a lot of transmission has occurred in faith-based gatherings."

Chart showing daily cumulative counts of positive COVID-19 cases

On Monday, the province reported one additional case of COVID-19, bringing the total of lab-confirmed and probably positive cases to 204.

Eleven individuals were hospitalized with the virus, including seven in intensive care. The death count remained at two.

Roussin advised Manitobans not to "put much stock" in the fact the infection numbers barely budged.

"We're going to expect some days like this, but far fewer days going forward. We know this virus is here; we know we have early community-based transmission," he said, again urging Manitobans to stay home.

Roussin said he would be speaking with municipalities later Monday about enforcement of current regulations.

As is the case with other laws, anyone who is charged under the Public Health Act can plead guilty or fight the charge in court. The penalty would be determined by the courts upon conviction, but cannot exceed the maximum: $50,000 for an individual and/or a jail term not to exceed six months, and a maximum $500,000 fine for a corporation.

There have been no reports of any fines being levied so far.

Officials are discouraging Manitobans from travelling to cottages, citing the increased risk of spreading the virus and the fear smaller communities could have their health facilities swamped by COVID-19 patients. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Officials are discouraging Manitobans from travelling to cottages, citing the increased risk of spreading the virus and the fear smaller communities could have their health facilities swamped by COVID-19 patients. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Government and public health officials have discouraged Manitobans from travelling to cottages, citing the increased risk of spreading the virus. They also fear smaller cottage country communities could have their health facilities swamped by COVID-19 patients.

"This is a very, very tough issue to deal with," Pallister said. "We've had families who have been in close confines for weeks now, who want to get away."

When asked about potentially prohibiting Manitobans from going to parks, Roussin said such a move could lead to crowding in other areas.

"There's a lot of unintended consequences," he said, advising anyone going to a park and witnessing a parking lot packed with cars to turn around and go home.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

larry.kusch@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

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Monday, April 6, 2020 at 7:19 PM CDT: Adds COVID-19 chart

8:12 PM: adds missing word to sentence

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