WINNIPEG — Manitoba is staying the course and leaving the province under code red (critical) as it eases some COVID-19 public health restrictions.
Effective Friday, March 26 at 12:01 a.m., the province will increase gathering limits at outdoor public places to 25 from 10 people. The same increased gathering limit also applies to weddings and funerals. The changes don’t apply to private residences.
Retail stores will be able to maintain a 50 percent capacity, but can soon expand in-store limits from 250 people to 500 people, whichever is lower.
The province will also relax rules for drive-in events to allow people to leave their vehicles while still observing public health measures.
“We are carefully monitoring our hospitalization data and case numbers of cases linked to variants of concern to ensure that as we gradually reopen, we continue to have capacity in the system,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer.
“That said, we are going to see more cases and more exposures as we slowly reopen. COVID-19 will be here to stay for awhile, and we need to work together to manage its effects and protect our most vulnerable. We can continue to do this by following the fundamentals including mask-wearing, frequent handwashing, staying home when sick and getting vaccinated when eligible.”
A public engagement survey released last week floated the idea of moving Manitoba to the orange (restricted) level, but feedback from the public swayed the province’s decision in maintaining the current level under the pandemic response system.
There will be no more changes for at least three weeks, Roussin said. That means a two-household bubble for gatherings in private homes and a household-members-only rule at restaurant tables will remain in effect through Easter, Passover and Manitoba’s spring break.
The new public health order will expire on Thursday, April 15.
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew noted it will be the second Easter under pandemic restrictions.
“I think all Manitobans are willing to buy into this level of caution with the hopes that we get to the other side of the pandemic as soon as possible,” Kinew said.
There are signs, however, that some people aren’t buying in.
The Justice Department reported that 59 warnings and 32 tickets were issued last week for offences such as not wearing a mask in an indoor public place or exceeding limits on gatherings.
One person was charged in recent days related to an assault on an enforcement official on Feb. 19, and there were three other encounters involving verbal abuse, Premier Brian Pallister said.
“These folks are out there doing there best to protect you,” he said during a livestream news conference.
“They don’t deserve to be treated badly.”
— With files from The Canadian Press