Editorial

As far as COVID-19 restrictions go, the new ones announced Friday seem sparse, given the eruption of new cases in Manitoba.

As far as COVID-19 restrictions go, the new ones announced Friday seem sparse, given the eruption of new cases in Manitoba.

Religious events in most of the Southern Health region will now be capped at 25 people if the event doesn’t require attenders to be vaccinated. And, beginning Dec. 5, youths between the ages of 12 and 17 who wish to play indoor sports must have at least one vaccination shot or show a recent negative test.

Public health officials stopped short of announcing the type of comprehensive clamp-downs that were previously used to successfully curb waves of rising transmissions. There was considerable speculation that Friday’s restrictions would, in particular, get tougher with the Southern Health region, where case numbers and hospitalizations are much higher per capita than the rest of the province.

<p>JOHN WOODS / CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer </p>

JOHN WOODS / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer

Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, has said he and his officials are still examining the situation to see what new measures may be implemented.

Instead of acting now (or last month, when it was clear that infection rates and hospitalizations in Southern Health were climbing at an alarming rate), the province has apparently chosen a minimum-measure approach while they wait and see.

Manitobans are painfully aware of how such delayed responses have played out in the past. During the second wave, a year ago this month, the province waited for infection rates and hospitalizations to hit dangerously high levels before implementing simple measures such as mandatory masks in indoor public places and a ban on household visits.

During the third wave in the spring, despite clear, scientific evidence from neighbouring jurisdictions of the need to bring in stricter measures to curb rising cases, the province waited weeks before acting. The results were catastrophic: case numbers provincewide climbed to over 500 a day, the death rate soared and hospitals were so overwhelmed, 57 intensive care patients had to be airlifted out of Manitoba for treatment.

Manitoba imposes new health restrictions in Southern Health, youth sports across province

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MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

"We certainly are at risk of overwhelming the health-care system again," said chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin.
MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS "We certainly are at risk of overwhelming the health-care system again," said chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin.

Posted: 12:19 PM Nov. 12, 2021

Public health orders unveiled Friday are the last step before Manitoba considers placing restrictions on fully vaccinated residents.

The new rules require teens to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to testing in order to play sports, participate in indoor recreation programs or attend overnight camps. The restrictions also mandate stricter capacity limits for churches in southern Manitoba that include unvaccinated attendees.

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The benefit this time around, unlike in previous waves, is the vast majority of Manitobans over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated. That will limit the ability of the virus to spread as rapidly as it has in the past. However, some areas of the province, including in the Southern Health region, have such low vaccine coverage that the virus is still able to transmit rapidly there, resulting in rising COVID-19 cases and increased hospitalizations.

Unless checked by measures more serious than those announced Friday, accelerated transmission in Southern Health will eventually make its way to nearby regions. Since no vaccine is 100 per cent effective, higher rates of transmission from low-vaccine jurisdictions can cause more breakthrough cases in high-vaccine areas.

The appropriate response from the province should have been to curb rising infections in Southern Health early on through strict regional restrictions. Instead, public health officials announced limited measures there on Oct. 5, including a 50 per cent capacity limit for retail outlets. Since then, cases have climbed steadily in Southern Health, roughly doubling to about 60 to 70 cases a day. About 40 per cent of COVID-19 patients in hospital, and half in ICU, are from Southern Health.

If Manitoba has learned anything from this pandemic it’s that delayed reaction to growing infection rates and hospitalizations can have fatal outcomes. It is discouraging to see the provincial government, in the face of a clear need to act strongly in Southern Health, continue to take a light-handed approach. The longer public health officials wait to implement serious new restrictions in Southern Health, the greater the likelihood that stricter measures will be required down the road, including for the rest of the province.