Manitoba hints at different approach to COVID-19 rules than other Prairie provinces

By The Canadian Press

A top Manitoba health official says the province will not rush to loosen its COVID-19 restrictions simply because some other provinces are doing so.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, the deputy chief public health officer, says Manitoba will look mainly at its own metrics, such as hospital capacity and rates of infection, before deciding whether to make further changes.

The government has relaxed some rules, such as capacity limits on gatherings in private homes and in many public venues.

Those new rules took effect Tuesday and are to remain in place for two weeks.

Atwal says there are encouraging signs – the number of new hospital admissions and the number of people in intensive care with COVID-19 have dropped.

But intensive care units are still well above pre-pandemic levels and a backlog of surgeries and diagnostic tests has continued to grow.

“Our hospitalization numbers … probably peaked, I mentioned, about 15, 16 days ago. And our (intensive care) numbers probably peaked about 10 days ago,” Atwal said Wednesday.

“We’re definitely heading in the right direction for sure.”

Saskatchewan and Alberta have announced plans to get rid of vaccination passports, mandatory masks and nearly all other COVID-19 rules in the coming weeks.

The Manitoba government has already said it aims to lift all restrictions sometime in the spring, but Atwal said any changes will not be immediate.

“Just because one province is doing something doesn’t mean we’re necessarily going to do that,” he said.

“We have to look at what we have from a capacity standpoint, to look at what we recommend from a public health perspective, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

Manitoba continues to require people to be vaccinated to attend venues such as movie theatres, restaurants, bars and pro sporting events. There is also a 50 per cent capacity limit, although a maximum of 250 people was lifted this week. Masks are also required in indoor public areas.

Atwal indicated capacity limits would likely be lifted before some of the other rules.

“I think first we have to bring capacity back up to 100 per cent, and then we’d have to take those next steps there afterwards.”

Health officials reported 12 new COVID-related deaths Wednesday. There were 102 people, including non-COVID patients, in intensive care. That is down slightly from last week but 30 more than the pre-pandemic normal capacity.

A small convoy of trucks and other large vehicles continued to protest COVID-19 restrictions outside the legislature for a sixth day.

The protesters blared horns and had parked some vehicles to block the main entrance to the legislature grounds, but traffic in the area continued to flow.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2022

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