Opinion

In case you didn't know, there is a steep price to be paid by anyone who attempts to give Premier Brian Pallister unsolicited advice.

Winnipeg Free Press

Delivering Crucial Information.
Right Here.

Support this work for just $3.92/week

In case you didn't know, there is a steep price to be paid by anyone who attempts to give Premier Brian Pallister unsolicited advice.

A week ago, Pallister was warned by physicians a much-publicized plan to lift COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on July 1 was madness.

The expert critics pointed out cases involving dangerous novel coronavirus variants were on the rise, the rate of new infections and test positivity were still alarmingly high, and the health-care system was reeling. They told Pallister any attempt to ease social and economic restrictions at this delicate stage of Manitoba's third wave could unleash a fourth wave of infections.

The premier definitely heard his critics.

And so it was, on Wednesday, Pallister announced he was lifting some restrictions — a week earlier than originally planned.

With this decision, the Tory leader once again demonstrated a chronic tendency to do exactly what the medical and scientific community begs him not to do.

You might remember on the two previous occasions Pallister ignored the advice of outside experts, the results were thousands of new infections and hundreds of additional deaths.

No matter. Like an unrepentant driver who has twice suffered a head-on collision, the premier is once again steering the province into oncoming traffic, hoping against hope the third time is the charm.

"Like an unrepentant driver who has twice suffered a head–on collision, the premier is once again steering the province into oncoming traffic, hoping against hope the third time is the charm."

The premier did try to limit certain freedoms to only those who have been fully vaccinated. Manitobans who have received two doses will be able to visit loved ones in personal care homes or hospitals, travel within Canada with no quarantine requirements, and dine indoors at restaurants with other fully immunized people from outside their household.

However, Pallister clearly did not have the stomach to leave the unvaccinated fully under the control of social and economic restrictions. Truth be told, the premier sent a pretty strong message you do not have to get vaccinated to reclaim most of the important things lost during the pandemic.

All Manitobans, regardless of vaccine status, will be able to enjoy backyard social gatherings up of to 10 people, public outdoor gatherings (including weddings and funerals) of up to 25, the right to visit businesses and churches in greater numbers, eat indoors with members of their household and outdoors with anyone they want, and get a haircut, visit the gym or get their nails done.

On Wednesday, Premier Brian Pallister announced he was lifting some restrictions — a week earlier than originally planned. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

On Wednesday, Premier Brian Pallister announced he was lifting some restrictions — a week earlier than originally planned. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

The new bar and restaurant guidelines are particularly galling.

As of Saturday, Manitoba will allow vaccinated and non-vaccinated people to share the same indoor restaurant space. Even if they are at separate tables, and unvaccinated patrons can only sit with members of their own household, this move is completely and utterly at odds with what is known about COVID-19 transmission.

Breathing the same air in an enclosed space where everyone is maskless is a huge risk, even for fully vaccinated people who, scientific studies have shown, can still contract and spread the novel coronavirus.

The outdoor dining rules are just as ridiculous. Allowing up to eight unvaccinated patrons from different households to hunker down at a single patio table completely ignores current science on outdoor transmission, and the threat posed by variants of concern.

However, no single aspect of the new public health orders reveal Pallister's contempt for science as the metric he is using to justify them: the provincewide, first-dose vaccination rate.

As of this week, more than 70 per cent of all eligible Manitobans had received at least one dose of an approved vaccine. Pallister repeatedly claimed this was a "scientific milestone."

The 70 per cent threshold is, in fact, a purely political milestone.

"Truth be told, the premier sent a pretty strong message you do not have to get vaccinated to reclaim most of the important things lost during the pandemic."

First and foremost, 70 per cent falls well below the theoretical level needed to achieve herd immunity. Although it is hotly debated in the medical and scientific communities, most believe it would need to be more than 80 per cent to reach such protection.

The importance of getting people fully vaccinated cannot be understated: a new study out of the United Kingdom showed while two doses of vaccine still provides 90 per cent-plus protection against, a single dose is only 33 per cent effective.

Those findings seem to explain why the United Kingdom — with 65 per cent single-dose coverage and nearly 50 per cent at two doses — is undergoing a fourth wave of infections driven largely by variants of concern. The UK recorded 16,000 new cases Wednesday, its highest daily total since February.

Any hope the Manitoba premier would change his ways, listen a bit more to the informed critics outside government, and embrace a new strategy of caution and respect for science have clearly been dashed.

At this point, it appears Pallister will not give up his reckless strategy until someone pries it out of our cold, dead fingers.

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.

   Read full biography
   Sign up for Dan Lett’s email newsletter, Not for Attribution