WINNIPEG — The province will further reduce COVID-19 public health measures in Manitoba one week ahead of schedule, while also planning to eliminate all restrictions by mid-March.
Beginning Tuesday, February 15, capacity limits will be eliminated in venues such as restaurants, licensed premises, entertainment venues, gyms, indoor and outdoor sporting events and casinos, as well as gatherings at private residences.
Health officials released details on Friday on what Manitobans can expect in the coming weeks, including the elimination of the proof of vaccine card on March 1 and the indoor mask requirement on March 15. In some settings, such as personal care homes and health-care facilities, mask use may still be required beyond that date.
The province will also eliminate capacity limits for outdoor public gatherings next week, but will retain a limit of 50 people indoors unless proof of vaccination is required.
Youth aged 12-17 playing indoor sports and recreation will no longer be required to provide proof of vaccination or recent testing. Retail and personal services remain unchanged.
“Based on the information and data monitored by public health, we are seeing strong signals that the Omicron wave has peaked and is now having a reduced impact here in Manitoba,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer.
“As a result, it’s prudent to continue to reduce our public health restrictions. I want to remind Manitobans that this is an important time of transition and we still need to get vaccinated, wear a mask and do simple but important things like washing our hands and staying home when we are sick. We need to remain cautious about gathering sizes, even as we shift from public health rules to public health recommendations.”
The current public health restrictions, which only took effect on Tuesday, were originally set to expire on February 22.
What else is changing on February 15?
- Close contacts of a person who tests positive for COVID-19 will no longer be required to self-isolate. Public health will still recommend self-isolation for people who live in a household with others who have symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 but it will no longer be required.
- Removal of self-isolation requirements for individuals entering the province. However, anyone travelling from international destinations will continue to be required to meet requirements under the federal Quarantine Act. Public health orders restricting travel to northern Manitoba remain in place.
- Schools will return to yellow (caution) under the Pandemic Response System, which requires cohorts in kindergarten to Grade 6. Masks are required indoors for staff and students but will not be required during physical education classes. Medical masks will be recommended but no longer required for school staff.
The opposition parties accused the Progressive Conservative government of caving in to protests against vaccine restrictions that have erupted outside the legislature grounds and near the United States border crossing in the Emerson area.
“This is Premier Heather Stefanson giving in to the convoy. This is capitulation,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
“It’s absolutely clear to me this is being done for political reasons. There was no public health evidence to back this up,” said Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont.
While the demand on hospitals has dropped from its peak, it remains well above normal. The 101 people in intensive care beds, including non-COVID patients, is 29 above the normal pre-pandemic capacity. Surgeries and diagnostic tests across the province have been postponed in order to free up beds and staff.
Groups that represent health-care professionals said the health system was still struggling.
“While we continue to have crowded ICUs, ERs and hospitals, while patients continue to wait to be seen … one can’t help but wonder if this decision was made politically rather than scientifically,” Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said in a statement.
“While all of us are ready for the pandemic to be over, it is important for Manitobans to be cautious a little longer to protect our hospitals, and to ensure we don’t slide backward and end up making this Omicron wave last even longer,” Doctors Manitoba said in a release.
“Doctors strongly recommend for all Manitobans to continue following public health COVID-19 guidance even if it is no longer reflected in a government restriction.”
Watch Friday’s news conference:
— With files from The Canadian Press