Premier Brian Pallister continued to deflect responsibility for the province’s escalating COVID-19 crisis, instead blaming Manitobans for failing to follow public health orders or to get tested.
At a news conference Tuesday, Pallister said "many Manitobans" have chosen not to obey health orders and then got sick. He said more need to take personal responsibility for their actions.
As of Friday, 129 of the 296 COVID-19 patients in Manitoba hospitals had not been tested before their arrival, he said.
This includes 21 people in ICU, the premier told reporters as the government announced the extension of restrictions that were designed to scale back interactions around the Victoria Day long weekend.
"We continue to see unvaccinated Manitobans requiring admission to hospital and ICUs," Pallister said. "We continue to see people who are coming to hospital very sick, presenting at hospital as very sick who have not been tested for COVID.
"That means that there is a far greater risk they're transmitting COVID to others, and variants of concern work fast. We need to change these behaviours."
Under questioning, the premier blamed the decisions of a minority of individuals, rather than his government's policies and health orders, for the hospital crisis currently facing the province, which is battling one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in North America.
"There are Manitobans who did not bother to take an hour or two and go out and get a life-saving vaccine. In fact, over 70 per cent of our hospitalizations currently are folks who haven't been vaccinated," he said.
The Opposition NDP said the premier was wrong to criticize Manitobans in hospital for not getting their shot when many younger persons weren't eligible to be vaccinated until very recently.
"What else can we say, but we just don’t have a very good premier," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
"The premier comes out today and blames people who are in ICU. It’s gross because these folks can’t defend themselves right now. Many of them are in medically induced comas."
Many of the people in hospitals right now are essential workers, Kinew said. What would protect such workers is a "fully comprehensive" and mandatory paid sick leave program, he said.
Asked during the press conference whether he thinks blaming Manitobans will help the situation, the premier said "there is lots of blame" to go around.
"But when people don’t go and get tested when they get COVID, who else am I supposed to talk about? When people... don’t co-operate with a contact tracer and provide information on who they’ve been in contact with, how the hell are we supposed to stop people from getting COVID? There’s an element of personal responsibility here. It needs to be talked about, and it needs to be confronted. It’s not a question of blame."
Senior public health officials have also blamed a lack of adherence to provincial health orders for the seriousness of the recent outbreak, while defending the orders themselves.
Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, recently claimed the reason Manitobans are seeing record case numbers is because they are not following the rules. His deputy, Dr. Jazz Atwal, has made similar comments.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said if Roussin thinks Manitoban should stay home to reduce transmission of the virus — as he has said repeatedly — then the public health orders should reflect that.
"We’re still taking half measures at a point on a day when doctors in Manitoba are saying we’re hitting the wall," Lamont said, referring to a dire warning issued by a group of doctors Tuesday morning about the health-care system on the verge of "collapse."
"We’re beyond the wall," said Lamont.
— with files from Carol Sanders
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.