WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government is promising to include more money to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in its annual budget Wednesday.

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Manitoba Finance Minister Scott Fielding speaks to media at a press conference before the provincial budget is read at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Manitoba Finance Minister Scott Fielding speaks to media at a press conference before the provincial budget is read at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government is promising to include more money to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in its annual budget Wednesday.

The fiscal plan is to include $1.2 billion for items such as protective equipment, increased testing and support for schools, Finance Minister Scott Fielding said.

He said part of the money — $100 million — will be earmarked for the province's vaccination program, which has been criticized over its progress to date.

"A good portion of that (money) is the staffing component," Fielding said Tuesday.

"There's more than enough money to provide enough staff support (at vaccine sites) as well as vaccines."

Fielding has already said the budget will have a deficit of $1.6 billion, down from $2 billion in the last fiscal year.

Government statistics released Tuesday showed almost 217,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered so far. That's 58 per cent of the supply the province had received.

The Opposition New Democrats accused the government of failing to distribute vaccines quickly.

"What we need to see is more urgency, more dedication from the provincial government to ramp up ... the pace at which they're delivering vaccines to people in the province right now," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

The government has said it has the capacity to administer 20,000 doses daily if it could get enough supply. It is currently averaging less than one-third of that number.

Health Minister Heather Stefanson said the 217,000 figure for administered doses does not include some distributed through First Nations, at pharmacies and in doctors offices.

"Some of those are administering right now as we're speaking," she said.

Other doses are already spoken for through appointments booked over the next three weeks, she added.

The minimum age for vaccine eligibility — 44 for First Nations individuals and 64 for others — has not changed in several days. Stefanson said the province had stopped expanding the age brackets because some older people in rural areas, far from mass vaccination centres, had yet to get their shots.

"Some of those areas, they were falling behind a little bit in some of those older age groups," she said.

"I know we'll continue to lower that age (eligibility) in the days ahead."

Manitoba health officials have expressed concern over a potential third wave, although the rate of new cases in recent weeks has been below those in neighbouring provinces.

There were 62 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths reported Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2021