By The Canadian Press
BRANDON, Man. — The Manitoba government has launched a campaign promoting a restart to the economy in a city that has seen a large increase in COVID-19 cases connected to a cluster in a meat-processing plant.
Premier Brian Pallister said holding the Progressive Conservative caucus meeting in Brandon shows the province’s support for the city’s future.
“We recognize that here in this part of the province there have been more cases lately, and we also understand why,” Pallister said at a Brandon hotel Wednesday. “And we understand this should serve as motivation for all of us to do the right thing.”
There were 16 new cases reported in the province Wednesday, for a total of 587 infections. A provincewide state of emergency was also extended, for the fifth time, for another 30 days.
Manitoba spent months with low numbers of new infections and many days without any new cases at all before the recent increase.
The majority of current active cases — 86 — are in the Prairie Mountain Health region, which includes Brandon. Several employees at a Maple Leaf Foods plant in the city have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past two weeks, prompting their union to call for a temporary closure of the plant.
Health officials have said the cases are linked to gatherings outside the plant and there is no sign of spread in the workplace. Maple Leaf’s CEO has said he has confidence in the safety precautions in place and the plant will remain operational.
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew called Wednesday for all employees at the plant to be tested in order to slow the spread of the virus.
Pallister said the province is following public health advice. He added that case numbers in Manitoba were low for a long time, which may cause people to be more fearful over the increase.
“There was nowhere to go but up.”
The province’s billboard campaign, which has so far cost $250,000, focuses on public safety and economic recovery. Health precautions must be balanced with the economy, Pallister said.
“Manitobans have been careful and we’ve been able to protect each other through this time,” he said. “But we have to remember that folks need to get their lives back.”
The premier also said it is important to support people going back to work. He called on the federal government to finalize details of the Pan-Canadian Sick Leave Program, which was announced nearly a month ago.
— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg