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'Summer is coming and the vaccines are here': Manitoba's plan to ease COVID-19 rules

Last Updated Jun 10, 2021 at 4:34 pm CDT

FILE - Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba chief public health officer, speak during the province's latest COVID-19 update at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg Monday, March 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG – Premier Brian Pallister is dangling the possibility of summer freedoms in front of Manitobans in a reopening plan based on COVID-19 vaccination rates and holiday dates.

The government’s plan focuses on four reopening categories: gatherings, travel, shopping and dining.

“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,” Pallister said Thursday.

He said his Progressive Conservative government’s plan focuses on four activities that Manitobans value, three summer holiday dates and two public health responsibilities that will still have to be followed.

If certain vaccination rates are met by those dates, limits will be loosened on gatherings, travel, shopping and dining.

“Summer is coming and the vaccines are here. It’s time for Manitobans to … enjoy a summer that they all want and all deserve,” Pallister said.

More than 70 per cent of Manitobans 12 and older will have had to receive a first dose _ and more than 25 per cent a second one _ by Canada Day to hit the first target.

If that happens, the province said, businesses and other facilities will be able to open at 25 per cent capacity.

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

Businesses will be allowed to open at half capacity if 75 per cent of people have had one shot and 50 per cent have had a second by the August long weekend.

The final target calls for 80 per cent of the population to have had one shot and 75 per cent to be fully vaccinated by Labour Day in September. In that case, most businesses, services and facilities would be able to open with limited restrictions.

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.”

Manitoba is slightly loosening health orders Saturday to allow small outdoor gatherings, but restrictions on businesses will remain in place.

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

There were 247 new cases of COVID-19 and six more deaths Thursday. The five-day test positivity rate was 11.1 per cent provincially.

Infections have put immense pressure on Manitoba’s hospitals, which has resulted in some patients being transferred to other provinces for care.

There were 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.

Unlike some other reopening plans across the country, Manitoba’s is not tied to other COVID-19 severity indicators like test positivity rates or hospitalizations.

Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief provincial public health officer, said it was important to focus on what Manitobans themselves could do.

“By making an appointment to get vaccinated, you can make a difference,” Roussin said.

“Let’s save our summer.”

The province announced Wednesday a lottery with cash prizes of $100,000 to try to encourage people to get vaccinated.

As the province’s plan was rolling out, the Manitoba Nurses’ Union announced that members had voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike. Nurses in the province have gone more than four years without a contract.

The union, which represents more than 12,000 nurses, said in a news release the COVID-19 pandemic has made worse what was already bad.

Union President Darlene Jackson said that she remains committed to continuing with collective bargaining to avoid a strike.

Pallister said he would not comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2021.