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There's a crack of daylight at the end of the long COVID-19 tunnel as Manitobans continue to benefit from their stay-at-home, physical-distancing efforts.

The province's chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said if the province's coronavirus infection numbers remain low, authorities could start rolling back restrictions "very carefully" in the "relatively near future."

On Tuesday, Manitoba reported no new additional cases of the virus. The average number of new cases per day over the past week has been under six.

The total number of active cases in Manitoba (positive tests, minus recoveries and deaths) stood at 142. That number has also been stable in recent days.

Roussin placed several caveats Tuesday on any possible start to the gradual reopening of business and society in general, but planning for that welcome occurrence is well underway.

Premier Brian Pallister said there have been "numerous discussions" at the government level about which specific sectors of the economy could begin to restart.

"There are plans to see our economy rebound. We’re working very diligently on that," he said Tuesday, while being careful to add that the health and well-being of Manitobans come first.

There's the danger that by moving too quickly to remove or ease public health orders the virus could very well bounce back, he said.

The federal and provincial governments have been holding discussions about reopening the national economy in stages, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that Canadians can assume that the current restrictions will be in place for weeks.

“There are plans to see our economy rebound. We’re working very diligently on that." — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

On Monday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said if COVID-19 case numbers remain low next week, the province might unveil a plan to reopen segments of the economy in that province.

Roussin spoke carefully Tuesday about any easing of restrictions in Manitoba.

The day before, he warned Manitobans could face tougher controls on their behaviour to prevent a surge of the virus before any gradual easing of public health orders takes place.

Before controls are lessened, Roussin said he will want to see a downward trend in active COVID-19 cases and be assured there's hospital capacity to deal with any spikes in very sick patients, among other factors. (On Tuesday, nine coronavirus patients were in hospital, including four in intensive care.)

"It's certainly nice to see a number of days like this," he remarked.

If there's another week of good news, "then that's going to make us think of what sort of things we could do to ease some of the restrictions without compromising our gains," Roussin said.

The province is now contemplating how it might begin easing restrictions.

"It's certainly nice to see a number of days like this." — Dr. Brent Roussin

"We have work underway right now looking at various sectors," the chief public health officer said. "Probably the first area would be in the business restrictions and which sectors could we loosen up on and how."

How well Manitobans followed the strict public health orders over the recent long weekend could be a key factor in determining how soon restrictions are eased. The results won't be known for another seven to 10 days or so.

"We will be following that closely, and it's going to guide some of our efforts going forward," Roussin said.

He said while there has been good news recently on the coronavirus front, Manitobans are very likely going to be dealing with it in one way or another for the foreseeable future.

However, he said it's "very unlikely" that they will be dealing with it in the same restrictive manner they are now.

Meanwhile, public health officials have completed an analysis on the first 121 positive cases of the coronavirus in Manitoba.

Investigations found the 121 had a total of 397 contacts. Of those, 37 developed COVID-19 for a "secondary attack rate" of nine per cent, Roussin said.

He said Manitoba wants to expand its COVID-19 testing and it will.

However, hospitalization rates and other factors are showing so far that authorities have not been missing instances of coronavirus transmission, he said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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