The number of health-care workers unwilling to provide proof of vaccination or refusing regular COVID-19 tests has grown since new public-health orders went into effect.

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The number of health-care workers unwilling to provide proof of vaccination or refusing regular COVID-19 tests has grown since new public-health orders went into effect.

The rules for people who work directly with vulnerable populations in Manitoba took effect Monday; Shared Health reported that, by midday, just 30 — out of about 42,000 — refused to comply.

But that number rose to 85 after later shifts were taken into account, a spokesman said Tuesday, adding the unpaid leaves have not caused any major issues.

"As part of contingency planning, coverage for absent staff have come from a number of areas including the redeployment of staff, volunteers from our COVID casual pool, staff who are willing to travel to provide support at other sites and managers," he said in an email.

Shared Health would not disclose the jobs the 85 workers are now absent from or the health region in which they work.

"These staff are located throughout the province and represent a variety of professions," the spokesman said.

The Manitoba Nurses Union, Doctors Manitoba and the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals said Tuesday they weren't aware of any of their members refusing to be vaccinated or tested.

"The College of Physicians and Surgeons, responsible for licensing doctors, has made it a requirement for all physicians to be vaccinated or tested," Doctors Manitoba spokesman Keir Johnson said. "Physicians are highly supportive of this requirement," he said in an email.

In parts of the Southern Health region, where the vaccination rate is low and opposition to pandemic-response restrictions is high, two personal-care homes in Winkler and Morden sent letters to families of residents last week letting them know there could be staffing shortages. As of Tuesday, there had been no significant disruptions, Shared Health said.

A concern about a lack of home-care workers in Southern Health has also been allayed, said Darrin Cook, CUPE representative for the area. The situation "turned out to be way better than originally feared," with very small numbers of workers choosing unpaid leave, said Cook.

There was no reason to put Manitobans in a state of anxiety over whether there would be health-care staffing shortages beginning Monday, NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara said.

"I found it highly unusual that we were all sort of holding our breath and waiting for this countdown to conclude before we would know what our health-care system is going to look like in terms of staffing," said Asagwara, whose background is in nursing. The province could have required proof of vaccination or a promise from workers to get tested weeks before Monday's orders took effect, the MLA for Union Station said.

"It doesn't make any sense that they couldn't have had a plan several weeks ago enacted so that they could mitigate having to scramble at the last second to address the staffing issues," Asagwara said, adding it would have been better for overall mental health.

"Haven't Manitobans been through enough? Haven't residents in long-term care been through (enough)? At what point does the government decide to be proactive if, for nothing else, than to bring down the stress levels and reduce the anxiety levels that Manitobans have had to endure during this pandemic."

The new public-health orders apply to employees across the provincial civil service, from health-care aides to those who work in education, child welfare and corrections.

About 1,800 health-care workers and another 3,700 people who work in education are undergoing regular rapid COVID-19 tests.

The province would not say how many employees who received rapid COVID-19 tests Monday got a positive result and were now off work waiting for confirmation from the more accurate PCR test.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, which represents 32,000 government and Crown corporation employees, along with some employees at universities and colleges, health-care facilities, social service agencies and arts and cultural organizations said there have been "a few instances" where members have been placed on unpaid leave.

"The MGEU encourages all members to be immunized," president Michelle Gawronsky said in a prepared statement. "When combined with appropriate PPE and workplace-safety protocols, immunization is known to be one of the most powerful tools we have to keep people safe."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

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.

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