May 27, 2020

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Manitoba government may relax more rules during COVID-19 pandemic

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Premier Brian Pallister responds to questions from Manitoba opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew during question and answer period at the Legislative Building on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ruth Bonneville - POOL

Premier Brian Pallister responds to questions from Manitoba opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew during question and answer period at the Legislative Building on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ruth Bonneville - POOL

WINNIPEG - Bars, dine-in restaurants, gyms and other businesses in Manitoba may soon be able to reopen as the province prepares to relax more restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Premier Brian Pallister released a draft plan Thursday for a second phase of reopenings, following an initial round earlier this month that allowed most retail outlets, restaurant take-out services and other establishments to open.

"We're acting on the medical advice we're getting. We believe that with these changes, we can continue to keep the curve flat," Pallister said.

There was no date set for the changes. Pallister said there would be public consultation and the plan could be pushed back if pandemic numbers rise.

Provincial health officials reported no new cases Thursday. There has only been one new case in the last nine days. With more people recovering, the number of known active cases dropped to 18.

The province's chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said a decision on a date for the changes will likely come soon, and the province will give businesses enough advance notice to prepare.

"We want a few more days to see trends, to see what's occurring," Roussin said.

Some places, such as cinemas, theatres and concert venues, will remain closed. But bars, tattoo parlours, dine-in restaurants, fitness clubs and pools would be allowed to open their doors again under limited capacity.

Youth and adult sports would resume along with film productions. Religious services could be conducted outdoors with no crowd limits if people remain in their vehicles. The province earlier announced a higher cap on public gatherings to take effect Friday — 25 people indoors and 50 outside.

With classroom instruction cancelled for the remainder of the school year, the province is looking to allow limited access to schools in the coming weeks for one-on-one tutoring and other specific programming.

And to make up for lost classroom time, the province plans to start the next school year on Aug. 31. Manitoba's public schools have started after Labour Day for almost 20 years.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the government should consult with people first.

"Now is the time to collaborate with educators and parents, not shut then out of the decision-making," Kinew said in a statement.

The province's plan would also ease — somewhat — a ban on non-essential travel to northern areas, which has been largely untouched by the pandemic. Southern residents would be allowed to travel to parks, campgrounds and resorts.

Northern First Nations have raised concerns about the potential impact of COVID-19 and some have restricted visitors to their communities.

Some First Nations members continued to block road access to the Keeyask hydroelectric dam construction site Thursday, one day after being served with a court injunction.

"It's a risk that's being implemented on us," Tataskweyak Cree Nation band councillor Nathan Neckoway said about the hundreds of workers that normally travel to and from the site.

Manitoba Hydro said it used a helicopter to get 19 essential security and maintenance workers to the project Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, it was our only option as the blockades prevent anyone from entering the site, putting the safety and well-being of all workers at Keeyask at risk," utility spokesman Bruce Owen wrote in an email.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2020

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