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Manitoba premier extends state of emergency over COVID-19 pandemic

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WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government extended its state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic Monday and shed more light on its plans for temporary public-sector job reductions to free up money for health care.

The state of emergency that was to expire this week has been extended another 30 days until mid-May.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks at an emergency COVID-19 physically distanced session at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks at an emergency COVID-19 physically distanced session at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Wednesday, April 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

"Extending the state of emergency will ensure we are able to provide the necessary resources to the front line of our health-care system" Pallister said.

Public health orders that limit crowd sizes, close non-essential businesses, and force interprovincial travellers to self-isolate for 14 days are, for now, still set to expire May 1. But those "will be continually evaluated", said Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer.

Roussin reported one new case of COVID-19 Monday, bringing the total of confirmed and probable cases to 254. He also revealed the death of a Winnipeg-area woman in her 80s with underlying health conditions — the sixth death in the province since the pandemic began.

The Progressive Conservative government has forecast a $5-billion hit to the provincial budget this year — a combination of higher health spending and reduced tax revenues from a slumping economy.

Last week, the government asked public-sector workers who are not on the front line to consider accepting reduced work weeks or temporary layoffs. It also wrote to Crown corporations, universities and other publicly funded bodies, asking them to map out three scenarios for a reduced workforce between May 1 and Sept. 1 —cuts of 10 per cent, 20 per cent and 30 per cent.

Those plans are due this week.

"Then we'll discuss ... what savings can appropriately be achieved right now," Pallister said.

"But let's understand that this is a pandemic — we're in the middle of it — and that it presents very real challenges that frankly are without precedent."

University officials said they were preparing the plans.

"It's certainly a challenging request the government has given to us," University of Manitoba president David Barnard said.

The University of Winnipeg has already laid off staff who provide services that are needed when students are on campus, said Chris Minaker, senior executive officer of external engagement

"We want to do our part to support the provincial government," Minaker said in a written statement. "We are reviewing the options and will provide those to government as requested."

The NDP Opposition called on the government to reconvene the legislature this week so that its cost-cutting can be debated.

"With the prospect of thousands of job cuts, now more than ever, the government needs oversight and accountability," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said in a written statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2020

Note to readers: This is a corrected story; a previous version said the government is extending its health orders.

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