Manitoba will begin a careful, multi-phased effort next week to gradually restore services, open some businesses and increase recreational opportunities while maintaining physical distancing, Premier Brian Pallister announced Wednesday.
As of May 4, a variety of non-essential health care and retail businesses will have the option of reopening under strict guidelines. Those services, businesses and venues include:
- Non-urgent surgery and diagnostic procedures.
- Therapeutic and medical services.
- Retail businesses.
- Restaurants — patio/walk-up services.
- Hair salons.
- Museums, galleries and libraries.
- Seasonal day camps.
- Outdoor recreation and campgrounds.
“Today’s good news, and it’s good news because of you,” Pallister said, praising Manitobans for adapting to the restrictions that were put in place to halt the spread of COVID-19.
“You stuck to the fundamentals, and those fundamentals are what will take us forward. But this isn’t a victory lap. Today is a celebration because of what you’ve done and tomorrow will be a celebration because of what you’ll continue to do.
“There is no room whatsoever for complacency against COVID-19. It is an adversary that is nefarious, sneaky and dangerous. There must be no COVID comeback in our province.”
Manitoba’s chief public health officer, speaking at his 1 p.m. briefing, reiterated Pallister’s remarks about the success of the province’s restrictions to this point.
Dr. Brent Roussin said on Wednesday that without physical distancing and travel restrictions, models suggests Manitoba would have had 933 cases by April 25. Instead, the actual number on that day was 267.
Since then, the number of new cases has been low, with zero on Tuesday and one on Wednesday, bringing the province’s total to 273 cases since the first was announced March 12.
There are 54 active cases in Manitoba, with 213 people having recovered. Five people are in hospital, none of whom are in intensive care. The number of deaths remains at six.
Much of the Manitoba economy and many workplaces have been shut down since late March by public health orders made in response to the global pandemic.
“I want to be clear. This is not an announcement about a return to normal … because the normal will be a new normal,” Pallister said Wednesday.
“We have borne this pandemic in a way that we might never have anticipated before this year — through stresses, strains and separations that made life challenging, to put it mildly.
“We have to ensure that we continue to do some of these measures, and we have to ensure we do them with dedication, because that is how we will protect each other.”
If results during or at the end of Phase 1 are not favourable, the province will not proceed with further phases and may instead reintroduce some measures, a news release from the government said.
“If disease activity remains low, we will give serious consideration in mid-May to reducing the restrictions on group sizes,” the news release says.
All businesses and venues being allowed to reopen will be required to continue following social distancing and stringent cleaning practices to protect both employees and customers, he said.
The province will continually re-evaluate and adjust plans for further easing of public health restrictions if one or any future phases result in a resurgence of cases.
Pallister highlighted the effect of restarting services on Manitobans.
“Parents who wanted their children to be able to play in the playground just down the street weren’t advised to do that. Now they can. If you wanted to take an outing with your family to go to a museum, you couldn’t go. Now you can. If you wanted to just have a break and walk down the street and maybe have an IPA on the patio of a restaurant, you couldn’t do it. Now you can,” he said.
“These changes are big for people to get back to enjoying the quality of life that Manitoba offers them, for families, for all of us.”
Despite his optimism, Pallister expects some businesses will have trouble finding staff because Manitoba is “fighting against a federal program that is actually paying people to stay out of the workforce right now. I don’t like the fact that is real, but that is real, people are being paid to stay home.”
Phase 2 of the reopening, which would happen no earlier than June 1, may include an increase in the size of gatherings and more non-essential businesses, including:
- Dining inside restaurants.
- Non-contact children’s sports.
- Film production.
- Additional personal services, such as nail salons.
Depending on the COVID-19 cases the province experiences with the reopening strategy, rules may be eased further.
That would include allowing larger public gatherings and reopening more businesses, such as bars, pools and spas, movie theatres and indoor recreational facilities. Travel restrictions may also be eased, Pallister said.
Specific considerations also will be made for performing arts venues, tattoo parlours, estheticians, cosmetologists and tanning studios.
Mass gatherings such as concerts, summer festivals and major sporting events will not be considered before September 2020, Pallister said.
“That will not be realistic for some time.”
He also ruled out following in the footsteps of Quebec and reopening school this school year.
“Our kids are precious to us. We’re in the early days of this recovery and a large number of students in a school makes social distancing all but impossible,” Pallister said.
It is already late in the school year and reopening for two months does not make sense, he said.
Roussin and Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health, said the health system’s capacity at this time supports the province’s move to begin reopening.
There are 2,432 acute care medical and surgical hospital beds in the system and as of April 26, 977 beds were vacant. As well, there are 86 adult intensive care hospital beds in the system, with 29 vacant.This shows Manitoba is well within intensive care capacity at this time, they said.