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Manitoba revs up for expanded reopening

Start date of Phase 2 yet to be finalized; public, business, industry asked for input

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Manitoba has unveiled a sweeping plan to reopen more sectors earlier than projected, giving the green light to bars, pools, splash pads, gyms, rinks, tattoo parlours, estheticians, and travel to tourist destinations north of the 53rd parallel.

"Early and decisive actions, along with the hard work of Manitobans have made a difference in our fight against COVID-19, and I want to thank Team Manitoba for all you've done," Premier Brian Pallister said during a Thursday morning teleconference.

Premier Brian Pallister announces phase two of the province's reopening at the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg on Thursday.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister announces phase two of the province's reopening at the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg on Thursday.

The months of handwashing and handwringing Manitobans have been doing to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus are paying off, officials said.

On May 4, outdoor restaurant patios, hair salons, playgrounds, elective surgery and health services such as physiotherapy were allowed to resume under Phase 1 of Manitoba's reopening plan.

"Early and decisive actions, along with the hard work of Manitobans have made a difference in our fight against COVID-19, and I want to thank Team Manitoba for all you've done." — Premier Brian Pallister

Starting Friday, public gatherings of 25 indoors and 50 outdoors are permitted. By May 29, outdoor visits will be allowed at personal care homes.

Phase 2 proposes reopening pretty much everything except casinos, theatres, amusement parks, and big concert and sports venues.

Phase 2 of reopening sparks hope

Soccer pitches and baseball diamonds will come alive with the sound of excited children and adults, while exercise buffs will be able to head to the gym again.

Soccer pitches and baseball diamonds will come alive with the sound of excited children and adults, while exercise buffs will be able to head to the gym again.

Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday there is no firm date for when the second phase of reopenings will roll out — the province initially targeted no earlier than June 1 - he said it is now time to put out the proposed plan and receive feedback from Manitobans.

Here are some of the areas the province is looking at opening again:

Funerals

Michael Gibbens, president of the Manitoba Funeral Service Association, said families mourning a loved one will welcome now being able to have 25 people gather indoors for a funeral, celebration or visitation, and up to 50 people at the cemetery. For weeks now, services have been restricted to having only 10 mourners due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"There's no question this helps - it's a first step," Gibbens said.

"Ten was a tough number. A lot of immediate families are higher than 10 so it made it hard for families to decide who could come and who couldn't. These numbers make it a lot easier for many families, but I don't know if it helps with a larger public service.

"It offers flexibility. We still have to make sure there is social distancing, and to tell people there is no hugging or kissing, but for the most part people have understood and respected the restrictions."

Gibbens said the toughest part will be how to determine where mourners stand at a graveside service because, while they will have to be two metres apart from each other, many family members don't like people standing on their loved ones graves.

"We will be looking forward to the next phases too."

Tattoos

Tattoo parlours, along with manicurists and pedicurists, estheticians, cosmetologists, electrologists and tanning parlours, are now close to finding out when they may be able to reopen after being shuttered for weeks

Rich Handford, of Kapala Tattoo on St. Anne's Road, said within minutes of Pallister's comments about tattoo parlours his phone began ringing and his email started buzzing.

"I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders," Handford said.

"I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm pretty excited to be part of phase two because initially we had been part of phase three, but we rallied and we submitted proposals to the province."

Handford said his parlour has already figured out how they can follow provincial restrictions, including screening staff and clients for symptoms of COVID-19, to safely give people tattoos. He said they also already have a supply of personal protection equipment ready to use.

"This is day 65 of isolating at home while our business has sat idle. I'm looking forward to getting an income again. As soon as the Premier gives us the go ahead we'll be open."

Team sports

Drive - or walk - past any soccer field or baseball diamond and they have been eerily empty for weeks, save for somebody taking a walk across them.

But soon they could have players playing on them again because team sports and organized activities are in stage two of the province's gradual lifting of restrictions.

Dale Friesen, president of the Winnipeg South-End United Soccer Club, said they are looking forward to soccer's return.

"We are all eager to get back on the field and enjoy the physical and emotional benefits that soccer provides for those that love the sport," Friesen said.

"What that return will exactly look like and how it may progress remains uncertain and is presently a topic of discussion between Canada Soccer, Manitoba Soccer and Sport Manitoba, who are collectively working with local Health Authorities to come up with a plan for Return-to-Play."

Friesen said that plan is still in the process of being put together and implemented.

"As a sanctioned youth sports organization, WSEU is committed to working with Manitoba Soccer and our local Health Authorities to implement a plan that prioritizes the safety and health of our members."

Friesen also thanks WSEU's soccer families for the support they gave the club during the past few weeks while play was stopped.

"As a community-based, not-for-profit organization, WSEU relies almost exclusively on the registration fees to support our costs," he said. "The understanding and support of our families enables WSEU to move forward with greater confidence and certainty as we navigate through the challenges and mobilize for a return to soccer.

Public/private swimming pools, splash parks, spas, fitness clubs, gyms and training facilities

The city's fitness clubs, gyms, pools and spas have spent weeks being forced inactive just when Manitobans would have liked to have been more active - but soon they will be moving again.

The province is now looking at allowing these places to reopen again, as long as they follow virus restrictions including making sure people are able to stay two metres away from each other except for brief exchanges, and limiting attendance to either 50 per cent of normal business levels or one person per 10 square metres, whichever is lower.

Rob Berkowits, executive director of the Rady Jewish Community Centre said they were told they were going to be part of the phase three gradual reopening, but they will work to get ready for phase two.

"We'll have to reconfigure our fitness area," Berkowits said. "It will now be a treadmill, then six feet, then another treadmill.

"But we're pleased. It is what we thought we would be doing. This announcement is very positive. We will be able to get revenue again."

Berkowits said COVID-19 restrictions forced the closure of the centre's fitness centre and pool for weeks.

"March 16 we closed the doors and 5,000 members were affected," Berkowits said.

"We have had to lay off 85 per cent of our staff... all of our revenue came to a halt."

Meanwhile, the city is in the process of reviewing the province's draft plan to see how it will apply to the city reopening its pools and splash pads.

"We will have more information regarding our next steps once we've had the opportunity to fully review this draft plan and make decisions that we feel protect the health and safety of our staff, as well as the public, said David Driedger, the city's manager of corporate communications. 

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

"Key criteria have been met since the implementation of Phase 1 that allow us to now look at further easing public health measures," Pallister said.

Without giving a specific date — and possibly sooner than June 1 — Pallister outlined the nine-page Phase 2 draft plan, which includes reams of guidelines and precautions.

It also proposes organized team sports, including those at indoor facilities, can start up — as long as they meet the health and safety requirements. Professional sports teams (players, coaches and team staff) would be allowed to use the team's facilities for practice and training, as long as no members of the public are allowed inside.

Personal services businesses, including tattoo and tanning parlours, could reopen at 50 per cent capacity. In the province's original reopening plan, they wouldn't have been able to until "future phases" — and only if the first two were successful.

Rich Handford, owner of Kapala Tattoo, in his sterilization room. Tattoo studios are part of Manitoba’s COVID-19 phase 2 reopening plans announced Thursday.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Rich Handford, owner of Kapala Tattoo, in his sterilization room. Tattoo studios are part of Manitoba’s COVID-19 phase 2 reopening plans announced Thursday.

Under the new plan, Manitoba residents would be allowed to travel directly to parks, campgrounds, cabins and resorts north of 53rd parallel. Public health orders currently ban such travel by non-northern residents.

Only those going directly to a tourist spot, who are symptom-free and can bring their own supplies would be allowed in. They would have to avoid visiting local and First Nation communities, where a COVID-19 outbreak would be catastrophic, the plan proposes.

Pallister said he's looking for input on Phase 2, and will consult Friday with roughly 50 business groups and trade associations representing more than 100,000 workers during a conference call. (Manitobans can offer their feedback at EngageMb.ca.)

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer.

"Clearly, all of us hope we can be in a position to move forward to ease some of the restrictions that have been in place for a long time," said Pallister. "Our ability to do that will be almost entirely up to Manitobans, and it will up to our medical experts to evaluate what they see over the coming few days before we are going to be able to take those steps."

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin wouldn't commit to a date to begin Phase 2.

"We're hoping to be able to give better notice than last time," Roussin said at a COVID-19 media briefing Thursday.

When the Phase 1 reopening was announced April 29, many businesses complained they were given just five days notice to prepare.

"I'm hoping it's multiple days we could give people," Roussin said.

"We're hoping to be able to give better notice than last time." — Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin

The initial April 29 plan for reopening Manitoba said Phase 2 could happen "no earlier than June 1," but both Roussin and Pallister said Thursday it could be before, on or after June 1.

"There are challenges in continuing the restrictions and challenges in loosening them," the premier said. "The reality of the matter is we take the health considerations most seriously."

With just one person hospitalized for COVID-19, weeks of zero and single-digit new cases reported daily, and increased testing and tracking capacity, Manitoba is well-positioned, said Roussin. "We're in the green zone, where we want to move forward."

Meanwhile, Pallister reminded Manitobans to keep washing their hands, maintain physical distancing, and stay home when they're sick.

"There is no room for complacency. We do not want a COVID comeback," he said.

Countries that were thought to have successfully contained the virus, such as South Korea and Singapore, saw the virus come roaring back when restrictions were lifted.

"We'd like to see a sustained recovery. Not the up and down that we've seen in other jurisdictions," Pallister said

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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History

Updated on Thursday, May 21, 2020 at 10:45 PM CDT: Corrects photo caption.

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