By Dr. Brent Roussin (@roussin_brent)
After almost a year and a half of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is hope for a safe reopening of our province that can last. With each passing day, more and more Manitobans are getting vaccinated, and one million doses have already been administered.
Vaccination is the key to making sure that this pandemic’s days are numbered. Our ability to reopen businesses, services and facilities and to gather with each other relies on Manitobans getting two vaccination doses while continuing to follow the public health orders.
I urge everyone to get vaccinated with two doses to make sure you and our province is fully immunized against any COVID resurgence.
On Thursday, the Manitoba government released a safe summer reopening path.
The 4-3-2 One Great Summer Reopening Path sets out a clear path for more openings and fewer restrictions as vaccination levels rise over the course of the summer. With each summer long weekend, we will have a bit more to celebrate – fewer restrictions and more of the activities and people we love.
This reopening path aligns fully with public health advice on phasing out restrictions as more Manitobans get vaccinated. It is a science-based approach. It relies on the evidence and experience we have learned on how to fight this pandemic.
The reopening path is focused on the four reopening categories Manitobans value most: gathering and socializing, travel and tourism, shopping and services and dining out and entertainment. There are three summer holiday milestones for phasing out COVID–19 restrictions: Canada Day, the August long weekend and Labour Day. And, there are two public health responsibilities Manitobans must continue to follow to ensure the province can reopen and stay open: getting vaccinated and following public health orders.
If Manitobans continue to get vaccinated and follow public health orders all the way through, I am confident we can and will reopen as proposed.
The Manitoba plan is tied to vaccinations. That is the key. Each holiday milestone for reopening will have a one-dose and two-dose immunization goal to guide progress in keeping Manitobans safe. This includes:
• over 70 per cent of all Manitobans aged 12 and over have received their first dose and over 25 per have received their second dose by Canada Day;
• over 75 per cent of all Manitobans aged 12 and over have received their first dose and over 50 per have received their second dose by the August long weekend; and
• over 80 per cent of all Manitobans aged 12 and over have received their first dose and over 75 per have received their second dose by Labour Day.
Meeting these vaccination targets means we can open up capacity levels for businesses, services, and events:
• at 25 per cent capacity or greater levels by Canada Day weekend;
• at 50 per cent capacity or greater levels by the August long weekend; and
• be fully open with only limited restrictions by Labour Day weekend.
You may ask ‘why can’t we reopen faster if we are getting vaccinated?’ The answer is this: we still have to protect our health care system.
COVID-19 is still out there and poses an ongoing risk for unvaccinated people getting sick, and needing to be hospitalized or even admitted to an intensive care unit. Until that risk is reduced, we need to be careful in how fast we open up our communities to more COVID cases.
That’s why the 4-3-2-1 Great Summer Path maintains two public health responsibilities for us all: getting vaccinated as soon as you are eligible and following public health orders always.
All pandemics end, and by looking to other jurisdictions with high vaccination rates, we can see with some hope that this pandemic’s days may soon be numbered. While we must deal with high case counts and the strain on Manitoba’s health system, we also need to start planning for a post-pandemic Manitoba.
A post-pandemic Manitoba will not be a post-COVID Manitoba. COVID-19 is likely to be with us for years to come. A post-pandemic Manitoba will also not be immune to a strained health care system. Chronic and acute issues burdened the system before the pandemic and will likely continue in the years ahead.
In a post-pandemic Manitoba, our health care system will not continually be at threat of being overwhelmed by one issue. A post-pandemic Manitoba will not report case counts, test positivity rates and hospital admissions daily. Most importantly, a post-pandemic Manitoba will not need widespread public health restrictions.
It has been far too long since we have been able to gather with our friends and loved ones. Many Manitobans have lost loved ones and have been unable to mourn in the usual ways. Many have missed out on celebrations, lost wages and have felt the many impacts on businesses. Many have missed out on doing some of the simple things we enjoy, like eating at our favourite restaurants, going to the movies and traveling.
The province’s reopening path offers real hope for a great summer for us all. This path will lead us to a post-pandemic Manitoba. With our combined efforts and rapid uptake of vaccine, we will be able to take our first steps along this path in the weeks to come, together.
Dr. Brent Roussin is Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer.