|Widespread shutdowns are coming to Manitoba this week, as the premier and top doctor ordered the entire province into the red, or critical, level of the provincial pandemic response plan. “We are truly at a crossroads in our fight against this pandemic,” Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a Tuesday morning announcement with Premier Brian Pallister.
Among the “short, sharp set of restrictions” is a ban on social gatherings of any kind starting Thursday that could last into December, Roussin said. Social contact must be reduced to members of your household only; non-essential retail stores, gyms, movie theatres, salons and churches will close. All recreational facilities and sports activities will be shut down, said Roussin, and non-essential travel is discouraged. The widespread closures may be in effect for a minimum of two weeks and up to four weeks, or two incubation periods of the virus, he said.
Schools and child-care centres will remain open because, despite hundreds of cases, there have been only a small number of confirmed transmission events or outbreaks in the K-12 system, said Roussin. There have been more than 2,000 cases in the past week, and the measures in recent weeks haven’t been enough to stem the spread, he said. Retail stores considered critical may remain open at 25 per cent capacity, while non-essential stores will only be able to function on a pickup or delivery basis. Regulated health professions such as massage therapy will be allowed to continue, Roussin said, while travel to and from northern Manitoba is restricted.
Pallister said Manitoba is going to have to hit “the circuit breaker.” He acknowledged the coming weeks will be hard on many and announced supports for businesses impacted by the closures. Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and Opposition Leader Wab Kinew have both urged the province to consider calling in the military to help the people in two care homes, following reports of staffing shortages and other concerns. Pallister said Manitoba won’t be asking for military help because he said it would suggest “a lack of confidence” in health officials such as Roussin.
In recent weeks, the provincial government has been criticized for not being proactive enough ahead of a second wave that experts anticipated would hit this fall. Cases continue to surge in several parts of the province, and people in the education and health-care systems have asked for more support in the form of resources and tighter restrictions to stem the spread of COVID-19. Pallister has threatened to crack down on people ignoring public health orders and doubled fine amounts for people and businesses violating those orders. “We have a chance to bend the COVID curve and we need everyone on the team, and if you don’t want to be on the team, be prepared to pay for it,” he said.