Manitoba’s premier laid out the province’s timelines for the removal of pandemic-related public health orders at a press conference Feb. 11.
Beginning Feb. 15, occupancy limits for at private residences and in public places like restaurants will be eliminated. The first day of March will see the end of proof of vaccine requirements and the requirement to wear mask indoors at public places will be lifted two weeks later.
Close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer have to self-isolate beginning Feb. 15. Other changes coming into effect next week include the removal of the cohort requirement in schools for kindergarten to Grade 6 students and of self-isolation requirements for people entering Manitoba from other provinces, though international arrivals will continue to be subject to the requirements of the federal Quarantine Act.
Travel orders restricting travel to Northern Manitoba will remain in place.
“It’s our responsibility to ease those restrictions on Manitobans,” said Premier Heather Stefanson.
The decision to accelerate the lifting of public health orders only one week after the latest changes came into effect Feb. 8 was based on modelling and data, said chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin. That data is not yet publicly available but could be by the middle of next week, he said in response to a question from a reporter.
“Based on our data, on our modelling we can see that omicron has peaked and is beginning to subside in Manitoba,” he said. “At this point we are starting that path to public health advice rather than restrictions.”
The decision to start loosening restrictions is not related to protests in Winnipeg, at the Emerson border crossing, near the Boundary Trails Health Centre in the southern health region and at a school in Steinbach that have been taking place, Stefanson said.
“This is not a decision that was made because of what’s going on and the protests. We have been having the discussions for quite some time,” said the premier. “Now it’s time, I think, to safely move forward with the reduction of these restrictions. Easing some of these restrictions is giving Manitobans more freedom in their lives.”
She also said the move wasn’t influenced by the removal of restrictions in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
“Every province makes their own decisions based on the data they have,” Stefanson said. “What we have seen is a fairly significant decrease in COVID-related ICU as well as COVID-related hospitalizations.”
Total intensive care unit occupancy remains above the maximum capacity in the province prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic
The Manitoba Health Coalition, a non-profit organization that advocates for the preservation and expansion of the healthcare system, said it was disheartening to see the province moving forward with loosened restrictions when the health care system is still under tremendous strain and said the government was caving in to people with extreme views.
“So far this week, the protest movement camped outside the legislative building has blocked access to health facilities, schools and the Emerson border crossing to the United States,” said health coalition provincial director Thomas Linner. “This is not a movement that deserves to be catered to with political victories that will hurt families, overworked and understaffed frontline health care workers and the most vulnerable Manitobans.”