For Manitobans, the stroke of midnight that eases Thursday night into Friday morning will usher in a decidedly different kind of day.
In anticipation of a fourth pandemic wave fuelled by the virulent and highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19, new public-health measures come into force, aimed at limiting the spread of the virus while maintaining as high a level of freedom as possible for those who have opted to mitigate their risk of infection — and infecting others — by becoming vaccinated against the virus.
For the vast majority of Manitobans — 77 per cent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, with 82 per cent having received at least one dose — it's a noteworthy and encouraging day; for many, it's a day that has been far too long in coming.
For others, the arrival of new restrictions — which will limit access to such activities and venues as pro sports events, concerts and performances, restaurant dining, museums and galleries, movie theatres, gyms and indoor recreational facilities, casinos and bingo halls to only those who produce proof of vaccination before entering — will only serve to deepen the resentment that has festered throughout the pandemic as safe and effective vaccination has been encouraged, mask use has been mandated and access limitations have been imposed.
Those angry Manitobans have been outliers from the outset; with the imposition of these more stringent restrictions on the unvaccinated, they will now truly become outsiders looking in, as the rest of the population enjoys some semblance of normal activity in spaces where a higher level of safety is assured.
In providing details of the new orders, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin on Thursday stressed these will not be short-term measures; indeed, as summer turns to autumn and cooler temperatures force more activities indoors, the need to limit opportunities for viral transmission will mean proof-of-vaccine requirements will likely remain in place for some time.
This is the reality we face 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic. And the province is correct in determining that now is the time to afford opportunities for normalcy to those who have embraced vaccination, and limit the likelihood that those who have opted against inoculation will contract and spread the virus.
It's as simple as this: no one can be forced to be vaccinated; vaccination is a personal choice. But it's a choice — as are most choices in life — that comes with consequences. In this case, serving the greater good of protecting the public from disease requires limiting the activities of those who have chosen not to mitigate their risk of spreading the virus.
With the new restrictions in place, it's likely Manitobans will see more of the anti-vax, anti-mask protests that have taken place across the country and around the world in places where mask mandates and proof-of-vaccination requirements have been imposed. Armed with misinformation culled mostly from unreliable and often purposefully inaccurate echo-chamber corners of the internet, they gather in irate clusters, incorrectly declaring their rights are being violated and inappropriately comparing their exclusion by choice to one or another of history's great atrocities.
Some among them, who are unvaccinated more for reasons of indifference than ideological opposition, might be convinced by the new orders to finally get vaccinated. The rest will continue to believe what they believe.
And so, here we are — at the "split society" Ontario Premier Doug Ford bemoaned in July when he vowed his province would never impose proof-of-vaccination requirements. Mr. Ford, now grasping the reality of the moment, unveiled Ontario's vaccine passport on Wednesday.