Manitoba launches COVID-19 reopening plan

Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin outlined on Thursday the province’s COVID-19 reopening plan, named the “4, 3, 2, One Great Summer Reopening Path.” Roussin said the plan will be tied to vaccination targets, and will focus on four reopening categories and three summer holiday milestones. “Each holiday milestone for reopening will have a one-dose and a two-dose immunization goal to guide progress,” he said.

The province hopes it’s going to be one great summer with more openings and fewer COVID-19 restrictions in Manitoba.

Premier Brian Pallister and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced the province’s reopening plan — dubbed One Great Summer Reopening Path — Thursday.

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“The more of us who get vaccinated, the faster we can regain our freedoms and enjoy what we’ve lost this past year and a half,” said Pallister.

“There are two ways to reopen safely — getting vaccinated as soon as you are able and continuing to follow the public health orders.”

Manitoba’s reopening plan will be tied to first and second dose vaccination targets, with businesses, services and facilities first allowed to open at 25 per cent by Canada Day, provided 70 per cent of all Manitobans 12 and over have received their first shot, and 25 per cent have received their second shot.

The province says restrictions on gathering sizes will also be loosened if the July 1 target is hit.

The openings increase to 50 per cent capacity, and gathering sizes limits will be again increased if the province hits 75 per cent first dose vaccination and 50 per cent second dose rates by the August long weekend.

Finally, if 80 per cent of the eligible population has received one shot, and 75 per cent has received two shots by Labour Day, then the province will open businesses, services, and facilities fully, with some restrictions.

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Nearly 68 per cent of Manitobans have currently received a first dose.

The plan doesn’t specify exactly which businesses, services, and facilities will be allowed to open as targets are hit, something Roussin said was done intentionally to allow for “flexibility” in the plan.

“But the goal is, if we hit these vaccine targets, we can start moving forward with these types of openings, with these capacity limits, fairly broadly,” he said.

“But, of course, we do have to have that flexibility and as we get closer to that date … public health will be announcing the specifics of (the opening), giving that heads up, giving that time to prepare.”

The plan also doesn’t lay out specific targets for what public health will need to see in terms of daily case numbers, test-positivity rates, or hospitalization numbers before restrictions are loosened.

Roussin said public health will be reviewing that data before restrictions are loosened, but didn’t say exactly what officials will be looking for or how the data might change the plan.

“Public health is going to be reviewing all those indicators, as we always do, and just like usual we don’t have a set test positivity rate — it depends on the trends, it depends on overall case numbers, it depends on the burden on the health care system,” Roussin said.

“Those are certainly on public health’s agenda (but) this communication is focused on what Manitobans have control over.”

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More details are to be released closer to the dates. Pallister said that doesn’t mean the plans are unclear, but rather avoid providing Manitobans with “false hope.”

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the reopening road map lacks details. He said it doesn’t answer questions Manitobans have about schools, sports and which businesses will be allowed to open.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said a proper plan should have clear benchmarks based on science.

“This is not a plan,” he said. “It’s something that’s completely vague.”

Hospitals still strained

The reopening plan comes as health officials say hospital capacity remains strained by a high number of COVID-19 patients.

The president and CEO of the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce said this is what businesses are looking for, but they need more details in order to plan for reopening.

“It’s something that’s long overdue, something we’ve been asking for quite some time in terms of getting a sense as to what it would look like for reopening. So I think we got that today in terms of the various milestones and the various metrics that we’re going to need to hit,” Chuck Davidson told Global News, adding that business owners need more details surrounding the specific steps, especially for the July 1 opening.

“What does it mean for a restaurant perspective or some of those specific services? Is a restaurant open at 25 per cent of the patio or 25 per cent entirely? I think that’s what we’re going to be looking for that needs to be spelled out in a little bit more detail,” Davidson said.

It comes a day after Pallister announced a lottery for all people who have received two doses as a way to boost vaccination rates.

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Manitoba will also be slightly loosening public health orders Saturday to allow for outdoor gatherings, but restrictions on businesses will remain in place.

Manitoba has been under tight public health orders since a delayed third wave brought a significant surge in COVID-19 infections last month.

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Roussin has said that Manitoba is not able to open everything at once given the ongoing demands on the healthcare system.

Manitoba has been transporting critically ill COVID-19 patients to ICUs in neighbouring provinces since May 18 to free up critical care beds during the third wave.

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There are 316 people in Manitoba hospitals and 30 patients in other provinces. Two of them were taken Wednesday to Ontario facilities in London and Thunder Bay.

Meanwhile, delays to surgery caused by the redeployment of healthcare workers to cover Manitoba’s stretched ICUs led to two elective cardiac patients being sent out of the province to have their surgeries last week.

Roughly 15,000 non-urgent and elective surgeries have been postponed in Winnipeg alone over the past 15 months due, health officials have said.

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Later in the day Wednesday, the province reported 251 new COVID-19 cases and six deaths.

Since March 2020, 1,087 Manitobans with COVID-19 have died, and 53,650 people have fallen ill with the virus.

— with files from The Canadian Press

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, visit our coronavirus page.

— With files from Marney Blunt.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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