By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Fully vaccinated people will be able to return to the dance floor as Manitoba brings back COVID-19 public health orders that allow certain activities only for those who have received two shots.
The province announced that restaurants, bars, bingo halls, sporting venues and movie theatres must require people to show a vaccine passport starting next Friday.
Dancing was banned at bars and weddings more than a year ago under measures put in place to try to curb devastating second and third waves of the pandemic. Even as restrictions loosened earlier this month, dancing was still not allowed.
Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, said people with proof of vaccination will finally be able to boogie, as long as they are masked.
“This is the benefit of this system,” he said Friday.
“We can have the vast majority of adult Manitobans taking part in activities without restrictions, except the requirement to be vaccinated.”
Health Minister Audrey Gordon said proof of vaccination is an important step to keep children safe as they head back to school next month, since those under 12 are not eligible to be vaccinated.
“We want to ensure they are protected and they are safe,” Gordon said.
Children who aren’t eligible to be immunized will be able to participate in activities if they are with a fully vaccinated adult.
More than 81 per cent of eligible Manitobans have had at least one dose and more than 76 per cent have had both. Gordon said that leaves about 406,000 in the province who have not been vaccinated. Of those, about 230,000 are children under 12.
The province previously announced it was bringing back a mask mandate for indoor public places, including schools, starting Saturday.
As well, all front-line provincial employees who work with vulnerable populations must be fully vaccinated or get regular testing.
Not every member of the Progressive Conservative government is supportive of public health’s new direction. Tory members of the legislature James Teitsma and Josh Guenter both posted on social media that the measures go too far.
In comments about the health orders, Teitsma referenced human rights violations, including residential schools, forced sterilizations and internment camps.
“One thing these human rights violations have in common: they were popular and favoured by the public.”
Guenter, in a letter to Premier Brian Pallister, wrote that the vaccine mandate “sledgehammer” won’t work in his southeastern Manitoba constituency and that it is creating two classes of people.
The government’s decisionwas applauded by some businesses and restaurants that have been significantly affected by public health orders throughout the pandemic.
Loren Remillard, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said immediate and strong measures had to be taken or there would probably be another round of restrictions or closures
“Such a scenario would be absolutely devastating to business and our community,” Remillard said in a news release.
A fourth wave of the pandemic has emerged in other areas of Canada. In Manitoba, there have been low daily case counts. There were 31 new infections reported Friday and the five-day test positivity rate was 2.8 per cent.
Roussin has said Manitoba will inevitably be affected by the fast-spreading Delta variant.
The province brought in a vaccine passport, or proof of immunization card, in early June. But, as restrictions were loosened, it was no longer required for many activities or to enter most businesses.
Earlier this week, Quebec and British Columbia announced they will issue a similar passport for people who want to take part in events or go to restaurants. Those provinces are facing increasing infections.
B.C.’s government said there has already been a significant increase in vaccine registrations and bookings for first doses since its announcement.
Roussin said he hopes to see a similar reaction in Manitoba.
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said given the passports were distributed months ago, the renewed measure has come in late.