It’s encouraging to see the ways in which the provincial government seems to be taking seriously the dangerous escalation of COVID-19 infection during the past week.
Province extends school break to ‘buy us time’ in Omicron fight
Posted: 9:35 AM Dec. 22, 2021
Manitoba is padding the end of the winter break for K-12 students in a bid to buy time while public health officials assess the risk of the Omicron variant and how best to resume learning in the new year.
On Wednesday — the last day of school before upwards of 200,000 students go on vacation — Education Minister Cliff Cullen announced the return-to-school date will be Jan. 10.
It’s equally disconcerting, however, to observe the examples in which this still does not seem to be the case.
On Wednesday, one day after heightened public-health orders came into effect, the province announced it will delay the post-holiday return to classes for K-12 students until Jan. 10. "This will give (school officials) more time to better assess the risk and look at options for the new year," said Education Minister Cliff Cullen.
Delaying the resumption of classroom instruction by at least four days (teachers will still be required to report for duty on Jan. 6) will also allow more time for youth vaccinations and the distribution of rapid tests to schools provincewide, Mr. Cullen added, which will afford families the opportunity to screen their children for infection in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
At approximately the same time on Wednesday, the Stefanson government announced a new round of pandemic-related financial supports for small- and medium-sized businesses affected by the enhanced restrictions on public gatherings that took effect Tuesday.
Province announces $22M in support for businesses hurt by new health orders
Posted: 11:46 AM Dec. 22, 2021
Manitoba’s newest grant for businesses is timely but falls short of covering the ongoing damages wrought by the pandemic, according to entrepreneurs and stakeholders.
Businesses hit by fourth wave restrictions can apply to the Sector Support Program, the province announced Wednesday. Funding ranges from $3,000 to $12,000 and is dependent on an organization’s staffing levels.
Under the $22-million Sector Support Program, businesses such as restaurants, hotels and bars that provide dine-in food services, fitness and recreation facilities, movie theatres, performance venues and museums will be able to apply for grants ranging from $3,000 to $12,000 based on the number of people they employ.
These are positive developments which, at face value, seem to indicate a timely urgency in the province’s response at a time when the Omicron-driven fourth wave is gaining momentum at breakneck speed. Case counts continued to surge on Wednesday, with 400 new infections and a province-wide test positivity rate of 9.9 per cent reported by health officials.
But how does one square this admirable gravity of response against the rather tepid plans laid out by the province for communicating with the public during this crucial phase of the burgeoning fourth wave? Before a backlash on Wednesday apparently prompted an abrupt change of strategy, the province had earlier announced it would take a holiday pause from its pandemic-related updates, offering no daily case-count numbers between Dec. 24 and Dec. 29.
The apparent reversal of position, to one that will now reportedly include "some" data being updated on weekdays during the holiday stretch, was necessary and will be appreciated by Manitobans deeply concerned about what appears to be another out-of-control wave of COVID-19 infection.
But the fact a plan was ever in place to take a break from informing the public suggests there are still elements in the provincial response that either underestimate or seek to minimize the seriousness of the situation and how crucially necessary it is to keep the public fully informed.
As is the case with the province’s seeming inability (or, some argue, reluctance) to directly confront issues of low vaccine uptake and chronic health-order defiance in the Southern Health region, the public is fully justified in expecting better.
With hours-long lineups being experienced at COVID-19 testing sites, schools, businesses and even health facilities reporting viral outbreaks, and families and individuals both confused and deeply dismayed by how health orders will affect their holiday gatherings for a second consecutive year, the province must reassure the public that its pandemic response is a fully engaged 24/7 endeavour.
Omicron is not taking Christmas week off. That’s the only calendar reality that should guide the province’s actions from now until 2022.