By The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is putting the finishing touches on a plan to loosen restrictions connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, but is warning that large public gatherings will not be permitted any time soon.
“What I’m going to be telling you next week is … a game plan that we can follow — provided that we don’t place additional unnecessary risks on our population — to get our economy and our social life back on track,” Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday.
Chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said the plan will include a gradual lifting of restrictions. Some non-essential businesses will be allowed to reopen and a 10-person limit on public gatherings might be raised in the near future, he said.
Pallister said church services and dine-in restaurants might be able to restart at some point.
But it is clear that large crowds, including public attendance at major sporting events, are a long way off.
“Large group gatherings are not a thing in our foreseeable future, and even when we do start moving the economy, things like that physical distancing are going to be in place for quite some time,” Roussin said.
There have been a relatively low number of cases in Manitoba compared with other provinces. Roussin announced two new cases for a total of 257 since the pandemic began. With more people recovering than testing positive, the number of active cases fell to 97.
RCMP said that while many have followed public health orders, its members issued $486 tickets to three people after a recent house party in The Pas. The Mounties said the three, who became belligerent when officers went to the home and found a large group there, were fined for disobeying the 10-person limit on gatherings.
Also on Wednesday, the Progressive Conservative government announced financial aid to small- and medium-sized businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Interest-free loans of $6,000 are to be available to businesses that have had to scale back operations. The loans are to be forgiven at the end of the year for businesses that have not qualified for federal pandemic-relief programs.
Pallister has faced criticism from some business leaders for not offering direct financial assistance until now, and has been trying to keep the province’s deficit from ballooning by seeking job concessions from public-sector workers.
He has asked civil servants and other workers who are not on the front lines of health care to accept reduced work weeks, and has warned temporary layoffs are the alternative.
The government issued a memo to public-sector workers on Wednesday that listed measures being taken to control costs.
“Potential legislation has also been identified as a last resort,” the memo said.
The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union said the document appears to threaten to undo collective bargaining rights.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the Manitobans that I’ve talked to are saying (Pallister) is going to do whatever he wants to do, no matter what,” union president Michelle Gawronsky said.