Masks will no longer be required in indoor public spaces and capacity limits will be eliminated for most businesses as Manitoba’s next reopening steps take effect on Saturday — one month earlier than first planned.
There will also be no restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings at private residences.
“This is a significant reopening for Manitoba. It’s the largest loosening of restrictions since the beginning of this pandemic,” said Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin.
Specifically, the new public health orders will allow retailers and malls, gyms and fitness centres, libraries, personal services such as hair and nail salons, day camps, markets and garden centres to open without restrictions.
As for masks, due to the ongoing presence of COVID-19 and the extra risk posed by the more contagious delta variant, health officials strongly recommend those who are not fully immunized continue to use masks and stay two metres away from others while indoors.
The new public health orders take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday and will expire at 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 7.
They will be reassessed at that time in the context of vaccination rates and Manitoba’s overall COVID-19 situation, the province said in a news release.
As of Tuesday, 80 percent of eligible Manitobans ages 12 and up had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the news release said. The province expects to reach 75 percent with two doses within the next week.
Those numbers were set out in the province’s reopening plan as targets for the Labour Day long weekend in September.
“This is great for our economy. It’s great for our communities as well,” said Premier Brian Pallister, who made his first public appearance in weeks after controversy over comments he and a cabinet minister made about colonization and residential schools.
“Manitoba’s in a good place right now thanks to the hard work of our public health team and of course, the collective efforts of all of you.”
He noted the new health orders reflect a shift from requirements to recommendations but emphasized that people need to keep up their guard and follow those recommendations.
Even though they’re not orders, it’s a very important way that we’ll continue to keep that COVID curve bent down,” he said.
Expanded but still limited capacity will stay in place for weddings, funerals and other public gatherings — both indoors and out — such as worship services and cultural events, like powwows.
Restaurants and bars no longer need to restrict the size or space between tables and dining will not be limited to households or vaccinated individuals. However, customers are not allowed to socialize between tables and dancing is not allowed.
“We know that COVID is still with us and we still know those places, crowded spaces, prolonged contact increases the risk of transmission not only of COVID but of the other respiratory viruses that are likely to return [in the fall],” said Dr. Roussin.
“We’re slowly approaching that post-pandemic Manitoba that we’ve been discussing and this is why we’ve been able to lift some of these restrictions. The continued shutting down of our economy and our society is not realistic in the long term.
“We have to learn how to live with COVID. So I want to remind Manitobans to be patient with others, be kind with others.”
There will be people who are more open and comfortable with the scaled-back restrictions than others, he said. Some people may still choose to wear masks and some businesses may still choose to require the use of masks.
“This will take time in this transition,” Dr. Roussin said.
Museums, galleries and movie theatres remain limited to 50 percent capacity but will no longer be restricted to fully vaccinated individuals.
Casinos and bingo halls, professional sporting events, horse and auto racing and concert halls will continue to be limited to vaccinated individuals but can now open to 100 percent capacity.
Indoor and outdoor sports and recreation will fully reopen with limits only on spectator capacity.
Overnight camps will be permitted, with capacity limits on camper cohorts.
Remote work will no longer be required or recommended by public health. Workplaces will be encouraged to transition from COVID-19 safety plans to a general communicable disease prevention plan that focuses on basic risk-reduction principles to reduce the risk of workplace transmission of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.
Workplaces must continue to report COVID-19 cases to the government for follow-up. Confirmed transmission in a workplace may result in it being ordered to close for a minimum of 10 days.
Dr. Roussin was asked why he chose to loosen restrictions and eliminate the mask mandate even though Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam is saying the country could be at the start of a fourth COVID-19 wave driven by the more infectious delta variant.
“Each province has to follow the epidemiology in their province,” he said, acknowledging a fourth wave may very well show up in areas around the world but that’s not the case in Manitoba right now.
Although a proportion of Manitoba’s cases are of the delta variant, the province is experiencing an overall decline in COVID-19 case numbers and test positivity, Dr. Roussin said.
He then urged more people to get vaccinated “to delay and lessen the impacts” of a fourth wave.
“Moving forward we’ll have to watch our numbers very carefully,” he said, adding he expects rising cases of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses among the unvaccinated this fall.
But rather than focus on daily case numbers, more analysis will need to be on the severity of outcomes to determine the impact the virus is still having, he said.
Among the unvaccinated are those under the age of 12, who will be heading back to in-class instruction at schools in a few weeks.
Dr. Roussin was asked about the planned health orders for back-to-school and said he would have more to say on that later this week.
“But I would note that the younger children are certainly much less at risk of severe outcomes or much less able to spread this virus,” he said.
“We feel, moving forward with our numbers, with the vaccine rates throughout Manitoba, that we’ll be able to return to school as normal as possible for this fall.”
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