Northern Manitoba leaders unsure if COVID travel ban will have desired effect

Northern Manitoba leaders are unsure about the travel restriction that took effect Sept. 4 due to the high numbers of COVID-19 cases in southern Manitoba.

A travel ban to Northern Manitoba was previously in place from April 16 to June 26. Similar to the former ban, residents can travel within the north as well as to the south and vice versa for medical care and other purposes.

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All non-essential travel into the north will be restricted, but some exemptions were made for government and Crown corporation employees, health care workers as well as business owners who need to travel for work. People are also allowed to travel directly to northern campgrounds and lodges.

“We are resigned to the fact that the restriction is probably a good thing. The only thing I would like to comment on is its effectiveness. The government needs to put a check-stop for monitoring because if we are serious about keeping people out of the region, then they need to enforce that instead of just saying that travel is not recommended,” said The Pas Mayor Herb Jaques on Friday.

Manitoba’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin had consulted with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) beforehand to reintroduce the Order Prohibiting Travel to Northern Manitoba under the Public Health Act.

According to Jaques however, the province has failed to reach out with the northern communities about the travel ban prior to the restrictions being announced and implemented.

“They did talk to the First Nation organizations, but there was no significant discussion with the other communities such as Thompson, Flin Flon and The Pas about the ban and its impact on us. There was also no discussion in the north on how it is being enforced,” he said.

During the Aug. 31 briefing, Roussin said the restrictions would be similar to previous public health orders. City of Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook believes that many of the aspects to the previous health orders were flawed.

“There are too many loopholes in the health orders. People are still allowed to go to the south and to areas where there are active COVID-19 cases and then come back to Thompson. The fact that people can still go back and forth freely, it definitely is a concern for us,” said Smook.

“Without the travel ban, everybody is more concerned and aware of their surroundings, maybe even taking a few more precautions. When the last travel ban was in place, people felt free to travel in the north, they almost felt invincible. This is not the case just because travel is restricted.”

Nicole Wong covers northern and Indigenous issues for the Winnipeg Sun under the Local Journalism Initiative, a federally funded program that supports the creation of original civic journalism.

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