Editorial: As restrictions loosen, personal responsibility to limit COVID-19 spread more important

As Manitoba prepares to enter phase three of its economic reopening plan following the relaxing of the initially very restrictive public health orders related to the coronavirus, the responsibility for ensuring that COVID-19 doesn’t make a comeback will shift from the government to people individually.

While, given Manitoba’s low numbers of overall and active cases – 304 and five, respectively, as of June 15 – it is as safe here as almost anywhere in North America to resume some of the activities that were suspended by coronavirus pandemic public health precautions – like gathering at churches or other places of worship, or enjoying a meal or a drink inside a restaurant or bar – people are going to have to watch that they don’t slip into old habits that could facilitate the spread of the virus. It isn’t uncommon to see people extend their hands for handshakes or embrace loved ones they haven’t seen for awhile because that’s what they usually do, and even though it is not guaranteed, without prolonged contact, that these actions would result in the transmission of the coronavirus, if either of the two parties had actually been infected with it, ensuring that Manitoba’s case numbers stay low, and that tighter restrictions aren’t reinstated due to the virus spreading more quickly again will require that people curb some of their natural instincts and learned behaviours and remain vigilant about keeping their distance from others.

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Manitoba’s fight against coronavirus has been so successful that people can afford to be careless and forget that only a couple of months ago, people were panicking, hoarding various grocery items and posting on social media demanding that they be told which specific communities in the north had seen positive test results. No one should be upset about that. That’s what public health measures sought to do. And it seems as likely as not, given that the first two phases of looser activity restrictions did not result in significant spikes in the numbers of cases, and that large protests have been in held in at least three Northern Manitoba communities, as well as elsewhere in the province, without any corresponding rise in infections, at least that we know of yet, that the trend will continue and that phase three, once it starts, will not erase all that has been accomplished over the past few months. 

COVID-19 is still a threat, particularly to residents of outlying communities, who could potentially contract it without even visiting larger places like Thompson, or Winnipeg, now that many First Nations have reduced measures limiting the comings and goings of their residents and of visitors to their communities. Thankfully, now it is possible for northern people at particular risk, due to their living situation or underlying medical conditions, to find out if they have the virus in as little as an hour. Manitoba has come a long way since the first case of COVID-19 in the province was announced March 12. Hopefully, the gradual reopening of the economy won’t cause any setbacks and, by fall perhaps, the province can look even more like it did before the virus arrived in Canada, though likely still with more face masks and six-foot separations between people than we were traditionally used to.

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