The Manitoba government is looking to throw open the doors to its COVID-19 recovery efforts by easing several restrictions, allowing movie theatres to reopen and theatrical performances to resume, and increasing gathering sizes.
“Thanks to the efforts of all Manitobans, we continue to lead in recovery and have among the lowest COVID-19 test positivity rates in the country,” Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday.
“That means we can continue our careful, balanced plan to restart our economy, give people back their lives and get Manitobans back to work.”
The full draft plan for Phase 4 is available on the provincial government’s website and could be implemented as early as Saturday, unless public feedback alters that plan.
Pallister encouraged the public to fill out a survey and to participate in a telephone town hall on Wednesday.
“We must maintain our vigilance while growing our way out of this pandemic. I encourage all Manitobans to have their say in our next steps of restarting our economy,” he said.
The proposed changes include increasing gathering sizes up to 75 people indoors and 250 outdoors, and easing of restrictions for faith-based gatherings, powwows and other cultural and spiritual events, along with resuming live theatrical performances and reopening movie theatres.
Occupancy limits would be removed for retail or indoor recreation, except for for gyms and fitness facilities, which must remain at 50 per cent or one person per 10 square metres, whichever is lower.
Casinos would also reopen at 50 per cent capacity and counter service would return at restaurants and bars, provided non-permeable barriers and hand sanitizer is available for patrons.
Removing 14-day isolation
The province is also considering removing the 14-day self-isolation requirement for visitors coming to Manitoba from other places in Canada, Pallister said.
That comes on the heels on Monday’s announcement of 18 new cases of COVID-19 in the province over the weekend — the biggest surge in cases in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, the province announced another 12 cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in Manitoba since mid-March to 366.
Of those, 318 have recovered and 41 are active. One person is in hospital in intensive care and seven people have died.
Meanwhile, the number of cases has also jumped recently in some other provinces. Ontario reported 203 new cases on Tuesday, after reporting 135 new cases on Monday. Quebec had 180 new cases on Tuesday.
Pallister, though, insisted that Manitoba is among the safest places in the world. He said he wants to boost the economy and “give 45,000 or 50,000 Manitobans a chance to get back to work.”
Asked what he would say to people who are worried about visitors, Pallister responded, “get in line.”
“We’re all concerned, we all have fears, but we can’t give in to them. We can’t live our life fearful,” he said at a Tuesday morning news conference.
Manitobans have done a tremendous job of keeping each other as safe as possible and now “deserve to have courage,” he said, while he himself expressed reluctance to go to a movie theatre.
Taylor Larocque, a Winnipeg resident whose partner is immunocompromised, called the premier’s comments insane in a post on Twitter.
“It’s not bringing a level of confidence to hear him being personally concerned for his own safety but not that concerned for the residents of Manitoba,” she said in a follow-up interview.
The premier said Manitobans want to get back to their jobs, to work and support their families.
“We see the reports of people who are ill. We see the reports of massive upticks in a number of jurisdictions around the world. We don’t want that to happen here,” he said.
“But we also have to understand we have an economy here and … we have to have trading partners, we have to have people we do business with.”
Other proposed changes in the Phase 4 draft include:
Increasing visitation at care homes.
Each resident or designate at personal care and long-term care facilities will be able to identify two support people who can visit the resident’s room indoors.
Outdoor visits will be allowed with up to four people per resident, depending on availability of space.
Distancing at therapeutic/personal services.
The province will allow people to get closer at therapeutic health businesses and personal service businesses, such as hair and nail salons, where a non-permeable barrier is installed.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew criticized the plan, suggesting in a news release that ending quarantine for all Canadians entering Manitoba would be irresponsible.
“The province should start encouraging Manitobans wear masks as a reasonable trade-off to keep families safe as additional reopening measures are implemented,” Kinew said.
Pallister said he does not like the idea of requiring people to wear masks in public places — but will follow any public health advice from Dr. Brent Roussin.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont also panned the end of quarantine.
“The premier seems to think that Manitoba is somehow immune from COVID-19. We have not beaten it. We have only kept it at bay,” Lamont said in an emailed statement.
“We should be preparing for a second wave, especially to protect seniors and our more vulnerable populations. Getting impatient and overconfident are the conditions that create a second wave.”