The Winnipeg Blue Bombers received some encouraging news on Wednesday that could potentially lead to a packed house at IG Field in time for their season-opener against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Aug. 5.
Premier Brian Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's top public health officer, have rolled back a number of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions owing to a decrease in daily cases and an increase in the province's vaccination rate and included in their list of changes was a number of privileges for those who have been fully vaccinated, including attending outdoor professional sporting events.
While the details were scant, it gave the impression that fans who are fully immunized (two vaccine doses plus two weeks from the time of their second dose) will be free to attend Bombers games at IG Field. The province was sure to add that it remains subject to approval by Manitoba Public Health.
"Manitobans have done the right thing," Winnipeg Football Club president and CEO Wade Miller told the Free Press Wednesday. "They went and got their first shot, they're getting their second shot. We're ahead of where the goal line was for July 1 and this is our start to get back to having our freedoms back as it was prior to COVID and to live with COVID.
"We're getting there, and the message is go get vaccinated. That hasn't changed and the quicker we all get vaccinated the quicker hospitalizations go down. Being fully vaccinated is what matters and our province, you can tell, is taking a different approach than others that are just looking at the first dose."
The ease of restrictions come one week earlier than expected, with Manitoba already achieving a proposed July 1 deadline for at least 70 per cent of Manitobans aged 12 and over to have received their first vaccine and 25 per cent to have received their second. Other provinces, including Saskatchewan and Alberta, are on pace to have full stadiums by early August, only they won't be required to be fully vaccinated. That won't be the case in Manitoba as the province continues to get out of a third wave of the pandemic that has stressed hospitals, even as case numbers decline.
"Our province is going to take a different approach and, with the guidance from Public Health, people will need to be fully vaccinated to attend. It's a good step forward, for sure, to have conversations and we'll see if we can't get some fans in for soccer as well," Miller said.
Talks between the Bombers and provincial health officials are ongoing, but what's clear is for those who want to attend football games, they will be required to show their vaccination passport in order to gain admittance.
Miller hopes the same loosening of restrictions can be extended to the Canadian Premier League, Canada's professional soccer circuit. CPL teams are beginning their season in Winnipeg, living in a bubble environment for the next five weeks, and playing their first eight regular-season games at IG Field before returning home for the remainder of the 2021 campaign.
The first game, between Ottawa and Edmonton, is Saturday at 1 p.m.
"Talks are ongoing, and we've been in contact with public health over the last 16 months working with them. Obviously, sport takes a little bit of a backseat when people's personal health is front and centre, but we'll continue those conversations," Miller said. "I would like to see the ability to bring some fans to soccer and I think there's a possibility to do that, and that's because Manitobans have done a good job of stomping out this third wave, and we're coming out of this and let's see if we're not able to pull that off in the next few weeks."
To be fully vaccinated and in possession of your immunization passport in time for the Bombers season-opener on Aug. 5, a second vaccination must be administered by July 20.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.