Opinion

After a couple of months where slow and steady seemed to guide Manitoba's pandemic response, Premier Brian Pallister has reminded its citizens he has no capacity for delayed gratification.

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After a couple of months where slow and steady seemed to guide Manitoba's pandemic response, Premier Brian Pallister has reminded its citizens he has no capacity for delayed gratification.

On Tuesday, Pallister emerged from a self-imposed, 18-day bubble — a bid to insulate himself from a series of self-inflicted political wounds — and promptly announced he was dismantling the majority of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions now in place.

Manitoba accused of going too far by removing mask mandate

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We have to learn how to live with COVID, says chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin. (Alex Lupul / Winnipeg Free Press)
We have to learn how to live with COVID, says chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin. (Alex Lupul / Winnipeg Free Press)

Posted: 3:15 PM Aug. 3, 2021

Manitoba is scrapping its mask mandate in the most significant scaling down of restrictions of the pandemic as it prepares to learn to live with COVID-19.

Face coverings will no longer be required, but will be recommended, in indoor public spaces, the province's top doctor announced Tuesday.

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It was pretty clear going in Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, were going to allow larger numbers of people to gather indoors. Given the pace of immunization — Manitoba has nearly 75 per cent of its residents fully vaccinated — allowing more people indoors is defensible from an epidemiological perspective.

Manitoba did maintain some capacity limits for churches, restaurants and bars, and will still require full vaccination to attend sporting events and concerts. Unvaccinated people will still have to quarantine for 14 days after travel or contact with a confirmed case.

However, Pallister could not resist the temptation to remove capacity limits for a host of other indoor public spaces and — more importantly — eliminate the mandatory mask mandate. Now, face coverings are only "strongly recommended."

The timing of these decisions could not have been worse. Although fully vaccinated people face minimal risk, there is growing concern continued outbreaks among the unvaccinated will lead to a vaccine-resistant strain of COVID-19. If that happens (many epidemiologists believe it is only a matter of time) the entire vaccination campaign will be back to square one.

The No. 1 thing we can do to avoid that apocalyptic future is to continue the use of masks in public indoor spaces. It is simply unfathomable Pallister and Roussin could have simply overlooked this epidemiological reality.

Instead of acknowledging the leading-edge of pandemic thinking, Pallister has given Manitoba a series of completely nonsensical, illogical changes.

No matter how incompetent or offensive, Premier Brian Pallister always finds something or someone else to blame and then readies himself to make the same mistakes over again.

ALEX LUPUL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

No matter how incompetent or offensive, Premier Brian Pallister always finds something or someone else to blame and then readies himself to make the same mistakes over again.

What possible benefit will accrue from allowing full capacity in fitness centres, with no requirement to be fully vaccinated or continue wearing masks?

What scientific evidence is behind the decision to allow full capacity of both vaccinated and unvaccinated patrons in bars and restaurants, with nothing more than a request people do not "mingle" between tables?

What could be accomplished by allowing up to 1,500 people to attend a church service, with no requirement to wear masks?

Why would full vaccination status be required to attend a Winnipeg Blue Bombers game with no capacity limits, but not be required at big box stores and shopping malls which, over the course of a day, would have huge crowds pass through their gates?

What scientific evidence is behind the decision to allow full capacity of both vaccinated and unvaccinated patrons in bars and restaurants, with nothing more than a request people do not "mingle" between tables?

It's almost as if the entirety of the political and public health decision-making hierarchy in Manitoba has forgotten the novel coronavirus spreads through the air.

This is, however, the kind of response you get from a government led by a man who finds no fault with his past actions. No matter how incompetent or offensive, Pallister always finds something or someone else to blame and then readies himself to make the same mistakes over again.

(Pallister showed that tendency again Tuesday, when he offered a ridiculously qualified apology for his recent comments absolving colonial settlers of atrocities against Indigenous people.)

In Tuesday's revised public health orders, Pallister is demonstrating an enduring loyalty to the same strategy that twice triggered the worst COVID-19 outbreaks on the continent. He won't change now because he actually thinks he has done a good job — all empirical data to the contrary.

In Tuesday's revised public health orders, Pallister is demonstrating an enduring loyalty to the same strategy that twice triggered the worst COVID–19 outbreaks on the continent.

Pallister cited a recent news release by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, which produces a quarterly "Misery Index" to assess the relative success or failure of provincial pandemic responses. The premier said, with some measure of pride, it showed Manitoba had the best overall performance of any province outside Atlantic Canada.

What he left out was Manitoba's overall ranking was a modest B, well behind Atlantic peers and only slightly ahead of Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Ontario. He neglected to point out the ranking improved dramatically in the current index only because Manitoba is just now coming out of its third wave; other provinces are already fighting a fourth.

Pallister knows the numbers are not flattering, and they are not a good way of comparing provinces, but uses them anyway. How can we possibly expect more from a man who would make an intellectually dishonest claim like that, all the while keeping a straight face?

While there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, you can bet on one thing: if these current public health orders go horribly wrong, Pallister will find someone else to blame.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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