Manitoba plans to roll back restrictions on people entering the province from western Canada and northwestern Ontario in the next phase of its economic recovery plan, scheduled to begin June 21.

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Manitoba plans to roll back restrictions on people entering the province from western Canada and northwestern Ontario in the next phase of its economic recovery plan, scheduled to begin June 21.

Premier Brian Pallister released on Thursday the third installment of his government's plan to further reduce sweeping restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The provincial government is collecting public feedback on phase three of its economic recovery plan, Pallister said, and the draft document could change prior to public health orders being written in 10 days’ time.

Pallister hasn't been tested

Unlike his Ontario counterpart, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has not been tested for COVID-19.

Unlike his Ontario counterpart, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has not been tested for COVID-19.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott were tested Wednesday after they came into contact last week with someone who has the virus. Their tests came back negative.

Pallister said on Thursday he's seen no need to have a test.

"I have not exhibited symptoms as of yet and I am very thankful for that," he said. "I am tremendously sympathetic and empathetic to those who have experienced COVID-19. I understand it is a most miserable experience for most people.”

"We have successfully kept our COVID curve flat, our province has some of the lowest positive test rates in Canada and that's a good thing," Pallister said.

However, moving forward with the changes proposed in the draft depends on COVID-19 numbers trending in the right direction over the coming weeks and keeping the province’s test positivity rate low.

"We hope to be in a position to move forward and ease more restrictions on June 21, but and I emphasize this, that will be up to Manitobans," he added. "And that will of course be up to what we see and hear over the coming days in respect of how COVID is doing, and how we're doing to keep that curve flat."

The premier has been eager to see restrictions on inter-provincial travel softened and previously told the business community thick borders hurt the economy here more than in any other province.

In easing self-isolation for certain travellers, the province is hoping to keep a handle on the greatest threat to Manitoba’s low case count.

Daycares, restaurants allowed to expand capacity

Phase Three of Manitoba's reopening plan would send most children back to daycare and let all customers back into stores, but it might not do much for restaurants or powwows.

On Thursday, Premier Brian Pallister announced phase three of the province's road map for recovering from the pandemic, which will take effect June 21. While some sectors say they are winners, others complain the plan won't help them this year.

Phase Three of Manitoba's reopening plan would send most children back to daycare and let all customers back into stores, but it might not do much for restaurants or powwows.

On Thursday, Premier Brian Pallister announced phase three of the province's road map for recovering from the pandemic, which will take effect June 21. While some sectors say they are winners, others complain the plan won't help them this year.

Details are outlined on the province's COVID-19 website. Here's what is proposed:
 
Daycare

The province proposes to let child-care centres return to their regular licensed capacity.

Marilyn Valgardson, executive director of the Assiniboine Children's Centre in St. James, said Thursday they are uncertain how they will be affected.

She said the province is also telling daycares they will have to comply with guidelines that are still being revised by public health officials.

"We have 165 kids when we are full, but right now we have been allowed to have a group of 24, and we are in the process of opening up a second group of 24 with separate entrances and washrooms," Valgardson said.

"But there will be guidelines and we don't know what that will be yet. One of my rooms has 30 school-aged children. If I can't go up above 24, then I won't be able to have them all."

The province allowed critical-care workers to temporarily put their children into daycare, but now they are being told they'll have to vacate the spots on Aug. 31.

Valgardson said she expects there will be a grim reality for some of her regular families because of COVID-19.

"I don't know how many of my families will need child care still if they don't have a job," she said. 

 
Restaurants and retail businesses

Retail businesses can allow in as many customers as they did before COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, but must have space for people to remain physically distant. Restaurants will be able to operate at 75 per cent capacity.

But Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said going from the current 50 per cent of customers to 75 per cent will do nothing for most restaurants because they still will have to keep their tables two metres apart from each other.

"They already have the maximum number of tables they can get in," Jeffrey said.

"Even at 50 per cent, a lot of restaurants are finding they can only get 20 to 35 per cent of their normal capacity inside. Without relaxing the social distancing, this has very little impact.

"Our industry is very upset. We've made sacrifices in our industry to flatten the curve, but we're very concerned about our restaurant industry. We will continue to lose more restaurants."

Meanwhile, John Graham of the Retail Council of Canada said retailers are pleased with the relaxing of occupancy guidelines.

"Manitoba has been one of only two provinces, including B.C., to prescribe capacity rules," Graham said.

"Manitoba will now align with other provinces that require stores to implement measures that support at least two metres from others."

Graham said the biggest question is when customers will come back.

"The reality is few Manitoba stores, outside of grocery and home improvement are seeing anything close to pre-COVID-19 store traffic," he said.

 
Permanent outdoor amusement parks

When it comes to permanent outdoor amusement parks, even Tinkertown owner Randy Saluk knows his park — with the train that goes around — is the only one here.

Until Thursday, Saluk didn't know when the provincial government's gradual reopening of the economy would allow him to throw open the gates. The province proposes to allow the reopening of parks like his, as long as they only allow 50 per cent capacity, make sure people stay two metres away from each other, and have enhanced cleaning.

"Phase three allows us to open on June 22, but we will wait for Saturday, June 27," Saluk said.
"We've lost May and June, but if we can get July and August, we will have a chance. We will have social distancing and disinfectant."

Saluk said they weren't just waiting to be allowed to open.

"We always anticipated opening, so we have everything put together and ready to go," he said. "We're getting a lot of calls from people wondering when we're opening. I think a lot of people just want to get out."

The province will allow the opening of other outdoor amusement parks, including mini-golf, climbing apparatus and mechanical rides.
 
The province still won't give the green light to the temporary amusement parks that open in shopping mall parking lots or at community fairs.

 
Powwows, Indigenous spiritual gatherings

A maximum of 300 people would be able to attend an outdoor event, including a powwow and other Indigenous cultural and spiritual gatherings, as long as they can be physically distanced into three groups of up to 100.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas says most communities have decided not to hold such gatherings this year.

"We've heard people say there is a new normal," Dumas said Thursday. "Seventy-five per cent of our communities have gatherings of this sort every year.

"The majority of our communities have elected not to have gatherings like powwows or sun dances this year. We are being told there is a second wave, and the chiefs have a real appreciation of the risk our people are in.

"It is truly significant for the communities to say we're going to hold off for a year."

-Kevin Rollason

"So it still is a big risk to Manitobans, the importation of the virus, and so like any of these restrictions we want them in place for the least amount of time that’s necessary and at the least restrictive level that’s necessary," chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said.

"And so looking at the epidemiology in the western provinces we’ve seen favourable trends in that area, the same thing with northwestern Ontario."

"We’re going to keep our eyes on those numbers quite closely," Roussin said.

Lifting restrictions on travellers from all provinces and territories west of Manitoba is being considered in the draft plan. The province has yet to determine what community or boundary will constitute the border of northwestern Ontario.

No new cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday while the province’s active caseload sits at seven.

The total caseload in Manitoba remains at 300 and 286 people have recovered from COVID-19. No one was in hospital or in intensive care Thursday and the province's total deaths remain at seven.

Other changes proposed under phase three include: increasing indoor gathering limits to 50 people and outdoor gatherings to 100, with an option to cohort up to three groups of 100 people outdoors; increasing occupancy to 75 per cent of total capacity for restaurants, bars, beverage rooms and micro-brewers with other restrictions in place; lifting occupancy limits for retail business; and allowing child care centres to operate at licensed capacity with guidelines in place.

Roussin said Manitobans, particularly those who are more likely of becoming severely ill from COVID-19, have to make personal decisions about how much risk they’re willing to take on if they choose to engage with public more frequency.

"People will need to decide on their own what level of risk they can take. There’s a lot of things in place to reduce those risks," Roussin said.

"It’s going to likely be a year or more that we need to learn how to live with this virus," he said. "A lot of this is going to be up to Manitobans to make informed decisions, and we’re pretty confident in that because it’s been Manitobans’ actions that have put us in this place to be reopening like this."

People eagerly awaiting the return of casinos and movie theatres will have to hold out a bit longer for those facilities to return.

Casinos had been previously listed in Phase 2 for opening as part of the third phase, but Pallister said those services are still on the horizon.

"If public health results begin to deteriorate and our guidelines are not sufficient, Phase 3 measures may be paused and, in fact, previous measures may be reintroduced," Pallister said.

As far as guidelines for churches, Pallister said: "We’ve had a team of government caucus members working diligently with church organization around the province and the City of Winnipeg to come up with coherent strategies around how church organizations can effectively protect attendees and their families. The cohort numbers I referred to apply to not only churches, they apply to the Convention Centre if they’re hosting a sales congress."

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
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Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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