It’s been more than three weeks since the province announced that Manitoba is on the verge of declaring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, Manitobans don’t have any more details around the reopening plan than they did when Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said earlier this month that the pandemic’s "days are numbered."
Roussin reiterated his post-pandemic messaging Monday as he reminded Manitobans that public health orders would soon be replaced by recommendations, and that daily reports on case numbers would become a thing of the past.
However, just like three weeks ago, he provided no details on what criteria the government plans to use to move to a "post-pandemic" world and what restrictions would be lifted.
"When that actually occurs is not settled as of right now, but we’re certainly ahead of schedule on reaching there," he said.
Roussin has not defined publicly what reaching "there" means, including what level of vaccination take-up would be needed to lift all public health restrictions.
Manitoba’s summer reopening plan doesn’t help. Even if government reaches its vaccine targets by Labour Day weekend, or earlier (80 per cent of people over the age of 12 with one dose and 75 per cent fully vaccinated), some restrictions may still be in place, under the plan. It doesn’t say which restrictions. Nowhere in the document does it refer to a post-pandemic Manitoba.
The public has received virtually no information about this.
Part of the problem is the government’s continued use of phone-in news conferences, which prevent journalists from asking multiple questions to get real answers from politicians and senior bureaucrats. Under the phone-in scheme, which has been used throughout most of the pandemic ostensibly for public health reasons, one journalist from one media outlet can only ask one question and one follow-up question. The government can — and often does — hide behind vague answers.
That doesn’t happen during in-person news conferences in which reporters can ask as many questions and follow-ups as they want.
The public would not have known, for example, that newly appointed Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Minister Alan Lagimodiere believed there were good intentions behind residential schools, were it not for a rare in-person scrum with journalists on July 15. That ugly fact was extracted from him through multiple questions and follow-ups during an in-person news conference at the Manitoba legislature. There were no government mediators to cut off questions and save the minister from himself.
By contrast, when Roussin was asked specifically on Monday what level of vaccination rates would have to be reached to move to the post-pandemic stage, he didn’t answer.
"Yeah and this is really the path that we’re on and we’re moving to that post-pandemic Manitoba," he said.
That’s not an answer, that’s gibberish. Normally, there would be numerous follow-up questions by reporters to demand a real answer to that important question.
Normally, there would be numerous follow–up questions by reporters to demand a real answer to that important question.
The Manitoba legislative press gallery has offered the government many safe options throughout the pandemic to hold in-person news conferences, including conducting them in large committee rooms at the legislature, with social distancing and masks. All have been turned down. Even now, in-person news conferences could be held with fully vaccinated journalists and masks. Instead, Manitobans continue to get non-answers through government-controlled phone-in sessions.
Even if the government has not yet decided what level of vaccine take-up must be achieved to move to a post-pandemic Manitoba, the province must have a range, based on science. Is it 85 to 90 per cent of Manitobans over 12 fully vaccinated? Ninety to 95 per cent? Will the pandemic be declared over even if children under 12 are not immunized? Does the province have any idea at all, or are officials just making it up as they go along?
These are the types of questions that would normally be asked during in-person news conferences.
Manitobans deserve clear answers to these questions. They’re not getting them.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.