Winnipeg Free Press

Delivering Crucial Information.
Right Here.

Support this work for just $3.92/week

Manitoba is tightening its borders and ordering all travellers to self-isolate for two weeks, over concerns they may bring new, and more transmissible, coronavirus variants across provincial lines.

At a hastily called news conference Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister announced changes to public health orders that require anyone who enters Manitoba to self-isolate for 14 days. The move will take effect Friday.

It will include travellers from Western Canada, the northern territories and west of Terrace Bay, Ont. — who are not required to self-isolate under current health orders.

Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday Manitobans who travel out of province will have to self-isolate for 14 days when they return, beginning Friday.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday Manitobans who travel out of province will have to self-isolate for 14 days when they return, beginning Friday.

Pallister said it's being done out of an abundance of caution, and knowing COVID-19 variants, including the B117 variant first identified in the U.K., have been detected in other provinces.

"There is a real danger with those variants. It's resulted in a dramatic surge in many other jurisdictions' case numbers and increases we are now seeing cases in Canada, including a tragic outbreak in an Ontario seniors' home," Pallister said.

In Barrie, Ont., 99 people have tested positive for an unidentified COVID-19 variant, with most being linked to an outbreak at a long-term care home that's claimed 46 lives, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit confirmed Tuesday.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said Jan. 11, although "early data suggest that the variants first identified in the U.K. and South Africa may be more transmissible, to date there is no evidence that there is any impact on disease severity, antibody response or vaccine effectiveness."

"There is a real danger with those variants. It's resulted in a dramatic surge in many other jurisdictions' case numbers and increases we are now seeing cases in Canada, including a tragic outbreak in an Ontario seniors' home." ‐ Premier Brian Pallister

Manitobans who are currently out-of-province have until 11:59 p.m. Jan. 28 to return without being required to self-isolate.

Acting deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said the B117 variant has not yet been identified in Manitoba, and surveillance is ongoing with targeted genomic sequencing being performed on swabs collected from travellers, outbreak settings, and at random.

Task force roll call

The Manitoba government has released further information on the structure of its vaccine task force, including the names of the implementation team’s executive leaders.

While Manitobans have become familiar with Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead on the vaccine rollout, a spokesperson for the task force announced Johanu Botha — pulled from the emergency management department — will helm for the operational arm.

The Manitoba government has released further information on the structure of its vaccine task force, including the names of the implementation team’s executive leaders.

While Manitobans have become familiar with Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead on the vaccine rollout, a spokesperson for the task force announced Johanu Botha — pulled from the emergency management department — will helm for the operational arm.

Reimer and Botha will both appear at news conferences going forward, the spokesperson said Tuesday, to give further updates on vaccine rollout across the province.

The task force’s medical advisory table includes guidance from 27 physicians, one pharmacist and two nurses, the province said. A further eight physicians, one nurse and four pharmacists have been advising on the distribution model for future vaccines.

The team is set to advise the immunization campaign for distributing three COVID-19 vaccines currently in development awaiting approval by Health Canada, the province said.

More than 50 public servants, largely redeployed from other government departments, have been assigned to the task force, the spokesperson said.

The province has also secured 20 staff from Crown corporations and more than 1,700 people across all five health regions to support the immunization campaign.

— Julia-Simone Rutgers

"We wanted to get ahead of the variant because early analysis shows that, depending on the study you read, it could be up to 70 per cent more communicable, and have the same impacts on morbidity, mortality, hospitalizations, if not worse… compared to what we have in the community right now in relation to COVID-19," Atwal said.

"The variants that we see from the U.K. are more impactful, so there is a concerted effort here to try to mitigate that risk for Manitobans."

If detected in Manitoba, Atwal said there will be a concentrated public health response to look at case and contact management, with a focus on determining where the person picked up the infection.

According to the province, current exemptions to self-isolation orders will still be in effect, including people travelling for essential interprovincial work and medical reasons. Exemptions will exist for people who regularly travel to and from communities near the borders for essential purposes.

"The intent is: don’t leave the province unless it’s essential," Atwal said.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy Manitoba chief public health officer.

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES /JOHN WOODS

Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy Manitoba chief public health officer.

The premier ruled out setting up highway checkpoints to notify motorists arriving or returning to the province about the 14-day self-isolation requirement.

"That would be a useless waste of time," Pallister said, adding the province will get the message out through its COVID-19 advertising campaign and targeted enforcement measures.

"If I have a regret from last year, I would suggest it was we were trying too hard to educate perhaps and not enough to make clear there are serious consequences if you don't want to abide by the rules," Pallister said.

“The intent is: don’t leave the province unless it’s essential.” ‐ Acting deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal

"Having penalties in place for those who shirk the rules is important. We'll continue to focus on enforcement as a necessary part of protecting one another."

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew told reporters Tuesday the new travel orders are needed at this time, and could give the province a chance to prepare before the highly infectious COVID-19 variants arrive.

"Let's use this time to make the investments in the health-care system so we can withstand what's coming as the pandemic drags on," Kinew said.

Intensive care units are running well above pre-COVID-19 capacity and it's "not sustainable," he said. "We just came through a period where our ICUs were only working because of the herculean efforts of nurses and doctors."

On Tuesday, the premier also said he supports the federal government imposing greater COVID-19 controls for international travellers and stricter quarantine measures, but not a total ban on international travel.

"Some premiers have called for (a) total travel ban (and) it may be something the federal government may need to do," he said. "I recognize they have a difficult decision to make.

"Doing nothing is not an option," he said. The emerging variants "become a greater concern every passing day."

Atwal said government officials are involved in discussions with counterparts at the provincial and federal levels regarding enhanced COVID-19 controls at local ports of entry.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

   Read full biography

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