By Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
Manitobans who test positive for COVID-19 soon will no longer be required to self-isolate.
The Progressive Conservative government announced Wednesday that, starting March 15, it will only recommend that people who have the virus isolate. The province will also stop investigating positive cases.
Those who test positive will still be notified, but the province will no longer trace where they may have caught or transmitted the virus.
Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief public health officer, said COVID-19 will still affect hospitalizations and generate cases, but severe outcomes have been diminished.
“We’re moving to a more endemic stage. We never had an order or law in place in relation to any other infection, per se, prior to this,” Atwal said during a COVID-19 briefing.
“We need to learn to live with and understand (that COVID-19) is a part of our lives. It is going to continue to be a part of our lives.”
Premier Heather Stefanson said changing public health orders can always be risky and it’s incumbent upon people to do the right thing if they are sick.
“We need to move on from this, and certainly what we’re hearing from the public is that when it’s safe to do so, they want to be opened up. They want to interact with friends, neighbours, and family members again.”
There were 464 people in Manitoba hospitals Wednesday with COVID-19, including 30 in intensive care.
The province on Tuesday ditched vaccine passports that had been needed to enter many venues and mask mandates are to be removed on March 15.
The changes don’t prevent individuals and businesses from following previous mandates, said Stefanson.
“People can still wear masks if they want to. Businesses can still require proof of vaccine if they want to. Those are all things that are in place out there. It’s going to take a little while to get used to this.”
Some venues and restaurants have already said they are keeping rules in place.
The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre has said it will keep vaccine passports and mask requirements until April 16.
Proof of vaccination will also continue at home games for the National Hockey League Winnipeg Jets and American Hockey League Manitoba Moose, although face coverings will become a recommendation only after March 15.
Saskatchewan also lifted its self-isolation requirement this week.
Atwal said there is likely to be an increase in cases as restrictions are lifted, but he doesn’t expect it will amount to a new wave of the pandemic.
“There will be an increase in transmission depending on how people will interact, but it shouldn’t cause significant impacts on the acute-care system.”
The Opposition NDP said the government’s decision to remove isolation requirements contradicts two years of public health messaging.
“They’ve decided to move ahead with a level of decision-making that doesn’t prioritize the protection of Manitobans,” health critic Uzoma Asagwara said.
Manitoba is distributing rapid antigen tests to various locations starting this week.
Some 18,000 tests are to go to public libraries and four million to pharmacies and grocery store retailers.
— With files from Steve Lambert in Winnipeg
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship